Low Lumber, Pricey Polls: Logs and Non-timber Forest Products – Prices & Trends

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

None of the mills are too excited about purchasing a lot of logs with lumber prices staying low, but the good news is most of you are on dirt roads and can do a little more waiting to see if prices bounce back up a bit. Now don’t get me wrong, $650 is a great price for 8 inch plus Douglas-fir long logs. Especially if you are remembering back to the recession where prices dipped well below $500. But if you’re like me the sweet taste of the $900 + prices will take a while to dissipate. But, we will all have to reset our expectations because it is looking like those prices were more likely a fluke and less likely the new normal.  

The Hem-fir sorts (spruce, hemlock, grand fir) are remaining pretty stable. These logs aren’t suffering as much as Douglas-fir compared to their typical price points.  If you can find a buyer, long logs are in the $485 – $500 range.  However, if you’ve only got short logs then prices are more dismal at $350 per thousand.

Unfortunately, the story of ponderosa pine is still the same. There aren’t a lot of buyers, prices are down, and uncertainty in the Chinese tariffs are keeping people conservative. Prices in Lane County are still in the low $300 range, but increase by about $50 down south. If you are selling pine, consider your trucking distance. At these prices, if you have to move it too far, you may be losing money instead of making it.

Conifer chips have increased a bit from last quarter’s report and are in the $50/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. Chip prices tend to rise in the winter, so if you can get it done, this is the best time to do it.

Someone may have gotten the word out about hardwoods and log buyers have good inventories in their yards. In addition, tariffs continue to cast their shadow.  These factors seem to have decreased alder prices a bit since my last report.  Prices for alder are hovering around $80 per ton or $600 per thousand board feet (MBF).

Alder isn’t the only species that is coming down from my last report. Cedar prices in the valley are down to $850/MBF for long-log cedar (above 36 feet in length) and $50 less in Roseburg.  Short log values decline by another $100-$200 depending on the length. Redcedar will stay strong and flat in its prices likely for the next few months.

Incense cedar values in Douglas County mills are running close to $775 for long logs at 8”+. Drop down to the 6” – 7” log and you’ll see values about $50/MBF less. Short logs come down $100- $300/MBF further depending on diameter. Incense is being purchased in the valley, but at lower values ($650) than Douglas County roughly in conjunction with the cost of trucking it to the Roseburg mills. Again, incense is in demand. For those of you interested in Port-Orford-Cedar in the Douglas County area, prices range from $550-$600.

Well we were right, there was downward pricing pressure by Japanese buyers about the same time domestic Douglas-fir log prices were decreasing. This has brought down the export prices to around $600/MBF.

This is the time for poles! Poles are continuing to go strong and look irresistible to sellers who are missing those late 2017 and early 2018 prices. Historically, pole values are a steady-eddie in large part to the increased time between harvest and end-use.  They also aren’t tied to the lumber market which is down at the moment. Poles less than 70 feet are bringing in about $50 more than last quarter and are sitting in the $1000/MBF range.  Prices increase as length increase.  Long poles are selling around $1125 and extra-long are up even more at $1250.

Last, but not least Non-timber forest products. Oregon grape is still the prime candidate for small woodland owners.  Oregon grape is down just a nickel and is selling for $0.70 a pound green. It’s best to get the product to your buyer within 2-3 days from harvest. There is a premium for certified organic.  Usnea lichen is still sitting pretty at $5.50 clean and dry/lb.  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. If you aren’t sure you’ve got the correct lichen, bring in a sample to your buyer.

The good news is that most prices are coming back up or staying fairly steady from last quarter. Keep working on those management plans I recommend last quarter. 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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