‘Everything is bigger in Texas,’ it is often said, including a thriving forestry industry.
In East Texas, all along the border with Louisiana, there is a lush green forestland.
This timber-rich area is ‘ground zero’ for Texas’s USD 41 billion forestry industry, with 60% privately held land; the rest is industrial, with a small portion held in state forest.
Wood Central reports that the Texas timber industry is evolving, with new products and opportunities adding value to trees.
According to Dr Eric Taylor, a Silviculturist from Texas A&M Forest Service, fibre grown, managed, harvested, processed and manufactured supports more than 172,000 jobs in the Lone Star State.
The Texas A&M Forest Service is connected to a Land-Grant College.
Texas A&M Forest Service was created in 1915 out of needing a conservation plan and state forester for Texas.
The 34th Texas Legislature mandated Texas A&M Forest Service to “assume direction of all forest interests and all matters pertaining to forestry within the jurisdiction of the state.”
In 1993, the 73rd Texas Legislature expanded Texas A&M Forest Service’s responsibility to include “Coordination of the response to each major or potentially major wildland fire in the state.”
Texas was the first US State to establish its state forestry agency as part of a land-grant college. Four other states have since done the same: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota.
Texas produces enough framing studs to reach the moon and back!
The value of harvested timber consistently ranks seventh as an agricultural commodity for Texas, “with working forests making up 4.654 million hectares of the counties’ nearly 8 million hectares,” Dr Taylor said.
Most harvested timber is turned into products ranging from ” two-by-fours and plywood, to cardboard for boxes, wood for furniture and home furnishings and mass timber for large structural supports.”
In 2022, East Texas sawmills produced more than 1.5 billion board feet of lumber or 457.2 million square metres!
Each board foot amounting to 12 inches by 12 inches by 1 inch, that is, according to Dr Taylor, “enough board feet for typical framing studs to reach the moon and back to Earth.”
The numbers are mine blowing; according to the Texas-based Gilmer Mirror, more than 3.1 billion square feet of structural panels, which include oriented strand board or plywood and T1-11 siding, were manufactured from Texas forests.
The Niche Market Products in Central and West Texas
In Central and West Texas, larger specimens of native species like mesquite and live oaks end up in products like live-edge tables or countertops.
These products, according to Dr Taylor, can command sky-high prices.
“The Texas timber industry has softened in some ways and strengthened in others,” Dr Taylor said.
“Some things changed, and some things will likely never change. Timber is still heavily tied to lumber and housing starts, but other products differ.”
In Texas, a large pine tree might be worth only $70 to a landowner on the stump, “but a live-edge slab from a hardwood tree from Central Texas could be worth thousands of dollars,” Dr Taylor said.
New value for Texas timber
Whilst the traditional timber market – pulpwood and lumber – is soft, the industry is looking at ways to improve harvesting and replanting efficiencies.
Dr Taylor is a strong supporter of lower initial planting densities, “around 500 seedlings per acre (or 200 per hectare), but 900 pine seedlings (or 360 per hectare) might be planted per acre at the start.”
Crowding pushes trees to grow straight and tall, but by 15 years, the trees become stressed.
Positive signs in the housing market drive plywood production
Hopefully, a good sign of things to come in global markets; the forecast for traditional timber products is positive, primarily on the back of Texas’s strong housing market.
Dr Taylor said housing starts were improving and higher than the previous reporting period, with around 1,300 new residents estimated to be moving into the state daily.
“Exports of lumber, especially to Mexico, continue to be strong as well.”
Whilst traditional pulp-based products like print paper are no longer made in Texas, Dr Taylor referenced the “Amazon effect” with surging demand for paperboard and cardboard for shipping boxes.
Around 2.5 million tons of paper-based containerboard was manufactured in 2022.
“When you buy something from Amazon, those items come in a box made of paperboard,” he said.
“Often, even little items come in big boxes. That’s part of the industry that Texas timber has captured.”
Mass Timber and Carbon Markets are driving investment
Taylor said that cross-laminated mass timbers are another promising new product adding value to treestands.
Carbon sequestration is another boon for landowners, Taylor said.
Texas is investing heavily in carbon markets, with carbon sequestration incentivizing sustainable management of forests.
“This could mean removing some trees so others can thrive, conducting prescribed burns to reduce fuels that could lead to wildfire, and controlling invasive, unwanted and/or competing vegetation,” Dr Taylor said.
Sequestering carbon adds value on the front end of the timber cycle, but whether the products are short-lived items like paper or long-lived products like two-by-fours also counts.
“Now there is a value added to the entire life of the forest from carbon and pulpwood from management to the end product,” Dr Taylor said.
New opportunities for landowners
At the same time, how timber is valued is changing how timber is managed, and population growth is changing how timber will be grown.
In East Texas, 5.1 million residents own 30 hectares or less of manageable land, with “continued land parcellation shrinking the average size of working forests,” Dr Taylor said.
Parcellation into smaller and smaller land holdings can impact a tract’s timber management future.
Timber harvesters prefer to clear large tracts because of the costs associated with setting up before and packing up after harvest.
He said that the Texas A&M Forest Service is now working with landowners in smaller tracts to overcome “economy of scale” limitations, combining smaller tracts into a larger aggregate tract managed in unison.
“Carbon sequestration and better harvest values,” he said, “are good incentives for neighbours to work together.”
“The economy of scale works against landowners with smaller tracts because it generally takes 100 acres to attract contractors to do the work,” he said.
“Pooling together makes a larger neighbourhood tract more attractive.