From farm or factory to port or plane, there are countless North Carolina ag products stocking shelves abroad these days with pork, tobacco, plant products, broiler meat and soybeans topping the list. Whether selling to top trading partners like China, Canada, Japan and Mexico, or breaking into hot new markets like India, Indonesia and Vietnam, international sales continue to be a lifeline in supporting local jobs both on and off the farm – not to mention a safeguard against an unpredictable domestic economy.
The forest products industry is just one of many in the state that relies on export sales each year. Here’s a closer look at the impact made locally, internationally and to the bottom line.
The Many Benefits of Forestry Exports
“Currently, forest products exports add $1.44 billion in value to state GDP,” says John Hatcher Jr., Ph.D, CF, executive vice president, North Carolina Forestry Association. And this is a good sign, because “healthy markets equal healthy forests. The export market brings more bidders to the table, giving landowners more of an incentive to cut their timber. Moreover, a healthy forest products market incentivizes our landowners to replant these cut areas and sustainably manage their holdings for years to come.”
Since forest products such as lumber are a renewable resource and multiyear crop, this turnover results in a continuous cycle of clean air, water and wildlife habitat. In addition, as North Carolinians have embraced technological advances in the manufacturing process, the vast majority of trees are utilized with very little waste.
“North Carolina also has a significant forestland base in close proximity to our ports, which makes our forest products highly attractive to the export community and financially beneficial to our landowners, loggers, producers and exporters,” Hatcher explains.
As a result, even a small business such as Oaks Unlimited, Inc. has enjoyed a long history of international sales. Beginning with White Oak staves in the 1960s and then hardwood lumber from the Waynesville location in the early 1980s, Oaks Unlimited has been sold in over two dozen countries split equally between Northern Europe and Asia. Once abroad, products such as kiln-dried hardwood lumber are then used for interior applications like furniture, flooring, doors and millwork trim.
With over 75 percent of sales currently being exported, Joe Pryor, president of Oaks Unlimited, says, “The main value of exporting is diversifying the customer base. Housing starts, GDP, currency exchange rates, tariffs and political instability all impact lumber demand, so it’s best to tap into a variety of markets.
“So far this year we have visited customers in the Middle East, China and Mexico. Trips to Vietnam, Sweden and back to China are next. Then there is new growth potential for lumber in India, Indonesia and Malaysia.”
Having demonstrated a strong commitment to boosting exports, doing business with integrity, producing top-quality hardwoods and treating customers like family, it’s no surprise that Oaks Unlimited was named the 2016 NC Exporter of the Year. Pryor credits hardworking employees and the staff at the Department of Agriculture Consumer Resources, who have been a great resource in navigating the world of exporting.
At the end of the day, “We have a wonderful, renewable resource with 2.5 times more growing than being lost due to mortality or harvest, so the demand for our product has room to grow,” he adds.
This includes new opportunities in international markets – and just like other ag exporters across the state, Pryor is ready to meet this growing demand.