In this Tuesday, July 28, 2015 photo, a truck load of logs heads to the Klausner lumber mill in Live Oak, Fla. The demand for timber worldwide is booming. Dozens of lumber mills and pine straw, bark and wood pellet processing plants have moved into the region to take advantage its unique soil composition and warm, moist climate in which pine trees thrive.
The towering grove of century-old longleaf pines surrounding Roger Ward’s family home is a rare sight in this verdant swath of north-central Florida — most pines here are cut and processed for profit as soon as their 15- to 18-year growth cycle is complete.
The demand for timber worldwide is booming and this remote section of Florida, along with other timber-growing regions of the southeastern U.S., are benefiting. Dozens of lumber mills and pine straw, bark and wood pellet processing plants have sprung up in north Florida to take advantage of the unique soil composition, lengthy growing season and warm, moist climate in which pine trees thrive.
In a state where undeveloped real estate quickly gives way to neighborhoods, strip malls, hotels or amusement parks, this timber-rich part of Florida is unique.
Ward jokes that the acres of tall pines constituted his college fund and his parents’ 401k. The family’s fortunes have long been linked to the rise and fall of the timber market.
“This is certainly one of the better times around here for timber,” Ward said as he inspected a field of tree saplings on a recent afternoon.
Timber prices are rising as demand grows for timber used in building, paper products and biofuels worldwide. Prices for Florida saw pine peaked around 2005 — before the housing bust and the recession — at $40 a ton, according to Timber Mart-South, a Georgia-based nonprofit organization that tracks the timber industry. Prices fell to $21 a ton in 2011 but are now around $25 a ton and rising.
Thomas Mende, president of U.S. operations for the Austrian-based timber company Klausner, is another person banking on the southeast timber market. Mende’s company recently invested $130 million in a new Suwanee County, Florida, timber mill, which ships pine boards to Asia, South America, Europe and beyond.
On the main road outside the mill, a billboard encourages locals to apply for jobs. Klausner currently employs 300 people here and hopes to hire about 50 more.
In this Tuesday, July 28, 2015 photo, timber land owner Roger Ward, left, talks with Brain Cobble of the Florida Forest Service as they look over an area with recently planted slash pine seedings in Live Oak, Fla. Ward has hundreds of acres of pine trees in various stages of growth and plans to convert more land now used for soybeans, peanuts and other row crops into additional tree farms.
“What you have here is an ideal location where the trees grow fast, there is political stability, excellent infrastructure and a solid workforce,” Mende said from his office, which overlooks acres of processed wood awaiting shipment.
In the American northwest and in Canada, some federal restrictions on foresting, longer growing cycles and problems with wood boring beetles have created supply issues and driven up costs, Mende and other experts said.
“Wood is being rediscovered as environmentally friendly,” Mende said.
He points to major building projects, including a 10-story wood building recently built in Australia and a taller wood building in Austria. The buildings use massive wood panels up to 64 feet long and 8 feet wide.