What’s the buzz on poles?

By Lauren Grand, OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension Agent – Lane County

For those of you who’ve been following the logs market for a while know that the last 2 years have been somewhat out of the ordinary. Log prices have mostly been on the rise since March 2016, but we all knew it couldn’t last forever. Summer is the time when most small landowners can access and sell their logs.  This increase in supply also means somewhat lower prices than what you see in the winter and spring.

Fire season has been kind to the Willamette valley and surrounding forestlands (knock on wood). No active fires have shut down production and fire weather has stayed below extreme, which means that harvesting operations can still occur early in the morning. Increased supply in the form of sellers and log access has kept mill inventory up and that pushes prices down. While prices have started their decent, these are still GREAT prices.

Good looking long Douglas-fir logs, eight inches and up on the small end, are priced in the low-$800 per thousand board foot (mbf) range. If you’ve got logs that are a little smaller, five to seven inches, and rough around the edges then prices dip down to the high-$700’s. If lumber prices continue to dip and the weather holds out, log prices might continue to decrease.  However, august is half over and there is only sunshine and hot weather in our forecast. If we go to a full shutdown, supplies will decrease and that may (it’s always a gamble) bring prices back up again. I’m biting my nails with anticipation and hoping for rain to help liberate us from this hot droughty summer!

Poles! I often get inquiries about poles so I chatted with a pole buyer to give you some extra details. Demand for poles has remained constant and high. Don’t rely on your logger to find these diamonds in the rough, pole buyers are always happy to come out and walk around with you to find trees that would make good utility poles. Buyers are most interested in poles 45-120+ feet, but also buy 30-35 foot poles if they are in the “mix”.  Poles should be straight, with “some” taper and knots are OK. Poles are always considerably more than saw logs.  Minimum pole prices are currently over $1000/Mbf and increase based on the length of pole.  At the very least, buyers are sure to offer enough that the landowner and the logger make more money than they would by only selling logs.

Some additional things to consider:

  • Poles under 60 feet fit on standard long-logger trucks, they are easy to handle in the woods and they pay well.
  • Pole buyers offer excellent payments for “oversized” logs (greater than 22 inches on the large end) if the stem meets their specs. This might get you a few more bucks if your only other option is an oversized mill.
  • Pole buyers will train your loggers to make the poles, or recommend a good pole-logger.  It’s their job to make this process as seamless as possible for the landowner while providing additional revenue from a harvest.  It’s really a win-win.

Feeling like your trees are too wonky for poles? On your next trip to the grocery store take a gander at the variety of sizes of wooden utility poles along your route.  Many of them have knots, some are not arrow-straight, and almost all of them are tapered.  Plus, there are a lot more of the shorter (less than 60 foot tall) poles utilized than the giant (100 foot plus) poles.

Now that Douglas-fir prices have started to retreat, alder prices are back in the running again averaging $90 – $100 per ton or $700 to $800 mbf depending on quality and length.

Chip prices have also come down, but not much, and are sitting in the upper $30 range.  Remember that chips are usually the most bang for your buck if there are a lot, and I mean A LOT. That chipper is expensive to bring on site!

The Hem-fir sorts (spruce, hemlock, grand fir) are not a hot commodity at the moment.  Some mills and sort yards aren’t buying certain species. Which is why you’ll get sick of me saying, “Always get your purchase order before you cut!”  If you can find a buyer, some are still working with the small landowners, long logs (40 footers), are in the $575 range and a mix of the shorter lengths are in the low $500’s mbf.

Cedar always brings a smile to my face. Western redcedar long logs are in the mid $1100’s and incense cedar are holding steady at $700.  Prices do dip below $700 with shorter logs, but they are still good options.

Let’s talk export. Export Douglas-fir logs to Japan pay great and are a good bang for your buck if you are within 50 miles of the port.  However, the last two years domestic prices have been so good that it wasn’t worth it to sell overseas. With domestic prices correcting themselves the Japanese export log might become a good option again. Export logs to China are another story. The China’s Ministry of Commerce issued a new list of US goods subject for tariff and our logs are on that list. It’s not official yet, but this definitely affects demand and prices. Both the rough oversized white woods and ponderosa pine took a hit are now only selling for $400 mbf. The good news is we have buyers in Eugene, so depending on where you are, trucking might not eat all your profits.

Last, but not least Non-timber forest products. It’s time to think Christmas. If you have greenery orders it is time to get them finalized. Waiting until the fall is too late. Currently, buyers are also still on the hunt for cascara bark and Usnea lichen. If you have a forest service collection permit, ‘tis the season for Pipsissewa or prince’s pine.  Starting in December Oregon grape and golden seal will be a hot commodity again and buyers are offering a premium if your lot can be certified organic. Certified organic means no fertilizer or pesticides for the last 5 years. If you are willing to plant golden seal and keep it organic, some buyers might help you out with a solar powered irrigation system. There are lots of options out there.

Long article this quarter, but there was so much good information to share. While prices are lower they are still great compared to a few years ago. Just a friendly reminder, if you are harvesting this summer, be sure to order your seedlings right away!  Supplies are lower and you have to order a year in advance.  Have a fun summer and stay cool out there.

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