[Image: Rich Vlosky at forum]
News Release Distributed 02/28/14
ALEXANDRIA, La. – The future for wood products in Louisiana is bright, thanks to Europe, a beetle in Canada and an increase in U.S. housing construction, LSU AgCenter experts said Tuesday (Feb. 25) at the Central Louisiana Forestry Forum.
More than 150 foresters, landowners and logging contractors attended the event.
LSU AgCenter forestry economist Shaun Tanger said demand has increased for saw timber and cordwood. “We’re seeing that in the Southeast as well as the rest of the country,” he said.
The housing market is improving with an increase in new home construction and one of the lowest inventories of available houses in the past 30 years. “If housing is looking good, the industry is looking good,” Tanger said.
Lumber from eastern Canada won’t be as plentiful because the mountain pine beetle is feeding on mature forests there, he said. “The South will have to fill a larger share than they have in the past.”
But he said the forest industry will have a problem replacing workers who earlier left for other jobs as the economy soured.
European countries are looking to the United States to help supply wood pellets for use as fuel for electrical generation. Countries in the European Union have a mandate to use more renewable energy, and that has boosted U.S. wood pellet exports, he said.
Rich Vlosky, director of the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Forest Products Development Center, said the use of wood pellets in the EU receives large government subsidies, making it economically feasible to ship wood pellets from the United States. “There’s no end in sight, given the commitment and subsidy structure in Europe,” he said.
A large power plant in Texas was built to burn wood to make electricity, but it has been shut down because it became cheaper to make electricity by burning natural gas, Vlosky said.
Lumber and the wood panel industry will be competing for the same wood used to make fuel pellets. “The winner, regardless of all this, is the forest landowners,” he said
Six projects underway in Louisiana will benefit the wood industry, Vlosky said. Two of them are facilities being built to make gasoline from natural gas and wood, three are being built to manufacture wood pellets, and another wood-pellet plant is in the planning stages.
One of the projects, Drax Biomass of England, will invest $120 million in Louisiana, he said. A Drax representative spoke at the forum, providing details about the project.
Vlosky said Michael Blazier, LSU AgCenter forestry research project leader, is studying eucalyptus plants grown for biomass to make wood pellets for fuel. Eucalyptus trees can be ready for harvest in six to nine years and generate 12 to 20 tons of biomass per acre compared with eight tons per acre from loblolly pine.
Wade Dubea, director of the Office of Forestry in the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said restructuring of the staff of 102 forest firefighters statewide will increase response times. “We’re doing the best we can.”
More firefighters are needed to decrease the response time, Dubea said. It’s difficult to get more state funds to increase the firefighting staff, and dealing with more than one fire simultaneously would be challenging.Bruce Schultz