OUR OPINION: Timber industry grows for future prosperity

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s forest products industry, even while feeling the lingering downturn of a sluggish home-building market, stayed above a $1.4 billion pace in 2011, Mississippi State University researchers forecast this week.
The timber industry, arguably the most visible industry with millions of acres covered by forests, remains in second place behind poultry among the products classified as agricultural in our state.
Even in the slow economy, the value of the sector was 19.7 percent above 2009, which was cited as a poor year. Effects of the national economy have been felt since 2007.
The ups and downs in prices and inventory have contributed to the closure of several mills, while others changed hands, said forestry professor David Jones at MSU.
Even so, Mississippi has 100 sawmills in operation, and all capable of higher production.
MSU had reported earlier that a growing inventory of products means lower prices, but a recovery would reverse that trend.
Mississippi’s pine timber, in heavy demand as a residential wood, is at half the market price of 2005, its peak year.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, new housing starts are at the lowest levels since record-keeping began in 1959; housing starts are at about 649,000 units, down from a high of about 2 million in 2005.
Pine pulpwood averaged $6.99 a ton during the second quarter of 2011. The average since 2004 has been $8.79 a ton.
On the plus side, timber still is growing in the field 6 to 7 percent in volume a year.
The majority of Mississippi’s timber land is privately owned, and Bailey said it is generally well-managed.
In a related positive development, Mississippi added 480,000 acres of state “Section 16” school trust forestlands in 2011, certified by the American Tree Farm System.
That inventory will continue growing and increasing in value, possibly for several decades.
With the increasing global demand for certified timber, the new certification makes Mississippi a strong competitor, reported MSU, which has a major college of forestry.
“This project marks the first time that a significant amount of public land has been certified by the ATFS,” says Bob Simpson, senior vice president of forestry at the American Forestry Federation.
“Certification gives Mississippi new bragging rights – they are telling the world that they’re managing their forestland in a way that has been internationally recognized as sustainable and credible. Certification assures that the forests behind the Tree Farm sign are being cared for in a manner that’s sustainable over the long term. Certified wood keeps the forest and paper industry strong, competitive and viable, not just in Mississippi, but globally.”