It was good while it lasted.

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

Usually I get to say that I have good news and bad news for you, but today I only have the unpleasant. Our two years on the cloud 9 of Douglas-fir prices are culminating in a free-fall ride back to earth. The lumber market has finally readjusted and log buyers don’t need to pay a premium for logs anymore. In addition Inventories and log availability are high, so demand is low which means prices are low.

During the summer, Doug-fir values were in the $800-$900/MBF range for long logs. However, with most mills backing off a bit, prices are down to the $550 – $575 range as we go into the winter.  Small landowners are usually dirt road loggers, and with the rains holding out, some of you may still have access to your timber. Normally I would say, “wahoo” to this, but normally prices would be on the rise this time of year. Instead, do your due diligence. Double check with your log buyer that the price on your purchase order holds out until the expiration date.  Not all mills will honor it until the end especially if prices drop fast, so it’s important to know which mills it’s worth sending your wood too in the time crunch.

The Hem-fir sorts (spruce, hemlock, grand fir) are not a hot commodity at the moment and prices are down a bit from last quarter. These logs aren’t suffering as much as Douglas-fir, but many buyers are in a waiting pattern to see what happens with the tariffs on Chinese logs.  If you can find a buyer, long logs are in the $300 – $400 range and a mix of the shorter lengths will be even less.

Similarly, it’s not a good time to sell pine. There aren’t a lot of outlets, inventory is high and prices are down to the $300 range, and uncertainty in the Chinese tariffs are keeping people conservative. It will be interesting to see how things start to play out in the spring.

Conifer chips are holding steady from last quarter’s report in the $30 – $40/ton range. For small landowners chipping material rarely has much monetary incentive, but can be an option if you are doing a large stand improvement project. Don’t forget some fiber mills are actively looking for hardwood chips and they are $10/ton less than conifer chips.

With hardwoods on the brain, let’s flash back to when alder prices were better than Doug-fir. Wait a minute, they are again! Prices for alder have remained steady since my last report at $95 per ton or $700-$800 for the premium logs and $500-$700 for the smaller logs.  If you have some premium (large diameter and straight logs) alder then you can claim $150 – $200 more per thousand board feet than Douglas-fir at the moment.

Alder isn’t the only species that is holding steady. Cedar has actually gone up $100 since my last report and if a person had some volumes of large diameter, clean wood, they could consider trucking it to Washington. However, if you wanted to save on trucking there are sort yards in the valley paying $1200/MBF for long-log cedar (there’s that 36 foot thing again).  Short log values decline significantly. Redcedar has been strong, is strong, and will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. And buyers are actively seeking these logs.

Incense cedar values in Douglas County mills are running close to $800 for long logs at 8”+. Drop down to the 6” – 7” log and you’ll see values about $100/MBF less. Short logs come down $100- $300/MBF further depending on diameter. Incense is being purchased in the valley, but at lower values than Douglas County roughly in conjunction with the cost of trucking it to the Roseburg mills. Again, incense is in demand.

For the time being the Japanese export log is holding strong. Japan buys very high quality long-logs at somewhat larger diameter requirements. At the moment, prices are around $850/MBF.  Domestic prices are now low enough that depending on your proximity to the ports, it may be worth it to spend a bit more on trucking.  However, we don’t expect this to last long. Japan pays attention to our markets and their prices will correct and fall in line with domestic prices soon.

One last report before the non-timbers. Poles retreated ever-so-slightly since this summer. Historically, pole values are a steady-eddie in large part to the increased time between harvest and end-use. Poles less than 70 feet are bringing in the low to mid $900/MBF range and typically there’s a premium on poles longer than 100’. Remember, there is some competition in the pole market, so make sure you check them out. Basically, one will pay a little more, but with somewhat tighter requirements and the other a little less, but a lesser quality log can make-the-grade.

Last, but not least Non-timber forest products. Oregon grape is still the prime candidate for small woodland owners.  Starting in mid-December, Oregon grape will be going for $0.75 a pound green. It’s best to get the product to your buyer within 2-3 days from harvest. Usnea lichen is also of high interest. Usnea lichen is commonly confused with some others including false and fishnet lichens. To tell them apart, Usnea lichen has a white bungee-like cord in the center that stretches when you try and pull it apart. Usnea lichen goes for $5.50 clean and dry/lb. If you aren’t sure you’ve got the correct lichen, bring in a sample to your buyer.

While floral greens wholesale orders are finished right now, you may be able to get in some smaller contracts for home use. These buyers are typically looking for salal, fern, and huckleberry. Mushroom season is also upon us. We’ve had just enough rain to get them sprouting without getting too soggy. Mushrooms typically claim a large sum, but they have to look good and be clean. There is a lot of competition out there, but if you have the time and patience, it’s worth the reward especially if you are just collecting for yourself. Always, be 100% sure you know what you are eating. If not, contact your mycological society for some good resources.

I’m sorry to say this was the most depressing log prices article I’ve had to write yet. I’m glad I wasn’t around for the recession. Despite the reduction of prices in Douglas-fir all the other markets seem to be doing OK. Let’s try and close this article with optimism and take the opportunity to try and learn something from all this. Having a management plan that can help you identify early when it will be time to plan a timber harvest is key.  In these situations you can get your operators lined up early and notifications in at the beginning of the year.  The market is all about timing and when you’re on top of the ball, you can take advantage of a good situation on short notice.

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