Oct. 21-27 is National Forest Products Week, a time to make ourselves more aware of the importance to our economy and our nation.
Now here in Iowa, we have no problem observing events connected with the pork, soybean or corn industries. We talk with people every day who are ag producers or whose occupations deal directly with food transportation, storage or processing.
When it comes to forestry, though, we might scratch our heads a little. Forestry? In Iowa? And then we go on to our business related to pork, corn or soybeans.
Historically, though, forestry has been a very important industry in Iowa, particularly in the southern part of the where vestiges of great hardwood forests remain.
Railroads used to hand out 40-acre tracts called timber claims with the intent that people could grow timber that they could cut and pile along the tracks to feed the train boilers when they ran out of coal. It was a good arrangement, one that satisfied both the railroads and settlers on the Iowa prairies.
As farms grew larger, tillable acres of course became more valuable than timber, and that's no more apparent than today when old shelterbelts give way to farmground.
While connection to farming in Iowa is strong, our connection to forestry may be a little fuzzy.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, according to the latest survey, Iowa had 29 sawmills that produced 16 million cubic feet of industrial roundwood compared to 17.6 million cubic feet in 2000, a 9 percent decrease in production. Industrial roundwood products are saw logs, pulpwood, veneer logs, poles, commercial posts, pilings, cooperage logs, particleboard bolts, shaving bolts, lath bolts, charcoal bolts and chips. All roundwood in Iowa is from hardwood species only. There are no markets close enough for the small amount of softwood volume that is growing in Iowa.
A total of 85 million board feet of sawlogs were removed throughout Iowa, with over half of the volume coming from northeast Iowa. The species with the greatest decrease in demand between 2000-2005 were the red oak (down 26 percent) and white oak (down 17 percent) species groups.
Looking at Iowa as four quadrants shows how different the timber markets are within the state. The top three species harvested in the northeast region were red oak, white oak and black walnut. These three species represented 54 percent of the volume removed in 2005. In the northwest region soft maple, cottonwood and ash were the top three species harvested. In the southeast region soft maple, white oak and red oak were the order for the top three species harvested. Cottonwood, black walnut and red oak were the top three species for the southwest region. By looking within each region, there are different available forest types and markets that influence sawmill production.
The most valuable species, black walnut, was harvested the most (2005) by volume in Clayton County followed by Allamakee and Jackson. Jefferson County had the most volume of soft maple harvested followed by Keokuk and Iowa.
Iowa forest landowners were paid $20 million for their trees in 2005. Consolidation of the sawmill industry as a result of technological efficiencies along with aging equipment and workforce has decreased the number of sawmills in Iowa. The number of portable sawmills is hard to track, but we do know there are at least 47.
The amount of veneer logs produced by sawmills in Iowa increased from 3.6 million board feet in 2000 to 5.1 million board feet in 2005, an increase of 40 percent. Black walnut accounted for 2,753 million board feet followed by white oak species with 1,692 million board feet of veneer produced.
In 2005 harvesting left 11.4 million cubic feet of residue on the ground after the logs were removed. About 33 percent of the material was oak species and 24 percent was from silver maple. At the sawmills 120,000 tons of green waste were produced after cutting logs into various wood products. Miscellaneous uses like livestock bedding, mulch and small dimensional lumber used 83 percent of a sawmill's waste. About 15 percent of the waste was burned for fuel.
Overall the wood industry is composed of 186 businesses in Iowa that created a economic value of $1.5 billion, up 36 percent from 1997 levels, according to the 2002 Economic Census of Iowa. The annual payroll for these businesses was $386 million for 10,964 employees. The payroll was up 32 percent and enrollment was up 72 percent between 1997 to 2002. So, even though the number of companies within the industry is shrinking the workforce is growing and receiving an increase in their salary.
So, as we seek the timber industry really is important to our state's economy. By appreciating that fact, and as citizens allowing the industry to flourish, we are able to see our overall economy grow.
And that's great for everyone.