What has been happening in forestry over the past year?
For landowners, timber and chip and saw prices have not rebounded.
If you follow the housing market (foreclosures, loan problems, etc.), it is easy to see why dimensional lumber used to build is not in demand.
Everyone was hoping the new Georgia Pacific mill in Clarendon County would be up and running in September 2011. However, it has not started taking wood as of Halloween 2011.
Of course, if you look at the market for plywood, oriented strand board and other 4- by 8-foot dimensional products, it does not make sense to start up a mill if there is no market for the product.
The good news is pulpwood prices.
Pulpwood products - to include paper, paperboard, wood pulp, uncoated kraft paper/paperboard - have been the leading forest product export for South Carolina. The top five customers are Italy, Germany, Korean Republic, India and Belgium.
Rumors within the forestry community are that a new sawmill is coming to Orangeburg County. Within the forestry community, you cannot keep a good secret very long.
The first time I heard something about a pine sawmill coming to Orangeburg County was back in May or June of this year. The next week, the forestry community was aglow with hush-hush whispers about the possibility of a new sawmill.
The company that is looking to expand is from Germany and like all companies, it is looking hard to find the best place to put its mill. Ergo, Orangeburg County and the surrounding counties are competing with a place in North Carolina (I do not know where). Both places are working hard to vie for this important market.
While both markets offer a place to build the mill and tax advantages, Orangeburg County does have one great advantage. We are very close to the Port of Charleston. The mill will be exporting some, most, or all of its product, and this will reduce its cost of getting the product to a port.
Most likely, the largest difference between choosing Orangeburg County or North Carolina is the forest landowner diversity. In North Carolina, the area that the German mill people are looking at consists of three very large landowners to sell them the sawtimber trees. The landowners manage the forest lands for investment purposes (meaning that raising and selling trees is their number one concern).
In South Carolina, we have thousands of landowners, some of whom never want to cut a stick of wood on their land. So the largest obstacle, from what I have heard, is convincing the mill executives that we have a huge number of forest landowners who very much want a sawtimber market and will sell their trees to the mill (as well as that our landowners are raising sawtimber).
One rumor or thought going through the community is that the new mill will compete with Dempsey Wood Products. This is not true. While both are sawmills, Dempsey's niche is totally different in the raw products it buys and its output. I believe that having both mills in Orangeburg County will be synergistic and will complement each other.
Back in July, I was told we would have an answer by mid=August as to which state would get the new sawmill. Those weeks are gone, and we still do not know.
With all the time that has elapsed, the glow has dimmed. Will we be the lucky ones?
Beth Richardson is an agent with the Clemson Extension Service in Orangeburg County.