Authored by Slade Gleaton of Treely.com
The forest products industry in South Carolina has come a long way since England laid claim to the territory in the 17th century. Over the years, large timberland holdings have been responsible for sustaining the forest products economy through naval stores, lumber, and paper. Today the forest products industry contributes over $21 billion to the South Carolina economy and continues to grow stronger each year.
As we look forward, one of the challenges the industry faces in South Carolina is the growing fragmentation of timberland ownership. Today, forested timberlands cover approximately two thirds of the state (over 12 million acres). Nearly 75% of this total is owned by non-industrial, private landowners. When you break this down further and look at the family owned timberland component, there are nearly 7 million acres across the State, of which over 3 million acres are composed of parcels of 50 acres or less.
That’s a lot of acreage and tonnage spread across a growing segment of small forest landowners. Why is this happening? A recent study from Clemson University points to death (and subsequent sale or inheritance of property), urbanization, rising incomes and regulatory uncertainty as the main reasons for larger timber tracts being split into smaller parcels. “Across the South, where poverty and minority land ownership is prevalent, small landowners continue to struggle and large tracts continue to be sub-divided by heirs due to death, taxes and poor estate planning,” says Sam Cook, Executive Director of Forest Assets with the Natural Resources Foundation at NC State University, and recent recipient of the Henry Hardtner Award, which recognizes contributions to forest stewardship and sustainable forest management on non-industrial private lands.
These smaller parcels are sometimes taken out of timber production or are not managed as effectively as they were in the past. In addition, the smaller landowner is often faced with the difficulty of selling timber because the smaller volumes are often too costly to harvest.
From the buyer perspective, it boils down to efficiency and profit margin. “Today’s loggers have more efficient and expensive equipment. Moving equipment between smaller tracts leads to a loss in productivity that puts pressure on already thin profit margins,” adds Jeff Tant with White Wood, Inc. “Even though there is no clear path to figuring out small tracts, one day a solution will be found and this will be a real plus to the industry.”
One possible solution to smaller acreage parcels may be found online. As our world becomes more comfortable with technology, our reliance on the Internet as a marketplace grows. We are much more comfortable shopping online for clothing, shoes, houses, mortgages, etc., than ever before. More and more brick and mortar stores are closing as they succumb to growing online commerce. Increasingly, there seems to be a new online market for everything.
Small landowners may soon benefit from technological advances that allow for online placement of timber sales or online clearinghouses that allow them to pool their timber with other small landowners. If this occurs, it will only help to bolster and strengthen the forestry economy by unlocking many of the small timber tracts that are not yet in the game. “Now is the time to utilize technology and connect the largely overlooked segment of small timberland owners with professionals in the industry,” adds Sam Cook. One local example of technology successfully enhancing the industry is Columbia based TerraStride, which is a mapping application for timber, land, and hunting tracts.
We have no real way of knowing where technology will take us, but a good guess is that over the next 10 years we will see more technological innovations that will take the forest products industry – and our growing base of smaller landowners – to new heights.
*reprint from SC Tree Farm News, July 2017 edition
Authored by Slade Gleaton, Slade is Vice President of Treely, LLC and can be reached by phone [843.367.3323], by email [firstname.lastname@example.org], visit treely.com for more information.