OUR OPINION: Timber growing its way back to profitability

Mississippi’s huge timber acreage pays profitable dividends when the national economy is buzzing with demand for forestry products that makes owners and employees happy and prosperous.

The strength of demand was seen this week with an announcement that Maple Land and Timber, which operates as American Land and Timber, will build a new sawmill near Baldwyn with a corporate investment of $1.95 million that will add 38 new jobs.

The new and expanded plant will make lumber for export. A 20,000-square-foot facility will be required to house the new equipment and jobs.

According to a press release, the company produces hardwood and pine lumber for domestic and foreign markets as well as pallet materials and crossties.

The fate of the timber industry and the national economy are closely linked, especially as it relates to the housing sector and furniture manufacturing. The collapse of the housing market nationwide in recent years was a blow to the timber industry.

By the same token, a slowly improving economy – and an upswing in home construction – have created a new and welcome resurgence in Mississippi’s second largest agricultural sector.

In Mississippi, forestry is a $1 billion per year industry. That’s a tremendous impact in direct and indirect jobs in the state.

Earlier this year, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Professor James Henderson said 2013 “is looking better than 2012 and much better than the last several years following the recession. The recovery for Mississippi’s timber markets will take time, but everything is finally heading in the right direction.”

Henderson said demand is exceeding supply for both housing and building materials.

An accumulated inventory of standing timber since demand dipped in the recession has been a factor in keeping prices from rising more quickly, Henderson said.

“Housing is projected to be back at a production level of about 1.5 million units a year by 2015 or 2016,” Henderson said, and that can only mean higher demand and better prices for Mississippi’s forestry products.

Sometimes Mississippians lose sight of the fact that some of our best and most sustainable economic development comes from resources like timber that with continually improving management techniques can provide jobs and create wealth for decades and beyond.