How much is my timber worth? Wow, that’s a loaded question. Especially in current market conditions.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that timber is a fungible commodity. In other words, since there is a lot of it on the market and there is constant flow of it, the price of it is tied to world wide demand. What the fashionable end product is in China, for instance, effects the price for your trees when you sell your timber. Prices fluctuate according to supply and demand of the sawn wood product. Supply and demand is also not easy to predict. Ash supplies are up due to salvage cutting of the trees that are infected with Emerald Ash Borer (see my youtube video on EAB on my channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B6yhQKuQcY ) yet prices have risen as entrepreneurs recognized the increase in supply and came up with new markets for the wood.
Fifteen years ago, I could generally sell red oak for $600 -$700 per MBF and could estimate your timber value with confidence. Today, it could sell for a third of that price and maybe not at all if the quality is low.
Black cherry that sold for well over $1,000 in its heyday would be turned away at a yard a few years ago as demand plummeted.
As a forester, it would be great to manage a tract of timber to maximize its growth in quality volume and depend on the market being there when its optimum rotation age is reached. But, unfortunately, there is no guarantee of future demand. One thing to keep in mind is that high quality logs can always be sold. Managing for quality, not just quantity is what I try to do on clients’ properties.
The days of marking a sale of mediocre timber and having multiple bids on it seem to be gone.
At the time of writing this post, the best markets are in the export logs, which require high quality timber. Red oak and sugar maple is at about $300, white oak and white ash is about $450, black oak, red maple and yellow poplar is about $250 per MBF. Paperwood is moving well so if you have low quality trees that need thinned, this is a good time to do it. You should be able to get $3 to $10 per ton depending on density, access, trucking distance.
The solution to this situation and other problems in forest management, is constant management. A good consulting forester/landowner relationship is a benefit to both parties. Instead of conducting a timber sale when you want a slug of cash, and instructing your forester to get all he can for everything over X inches dbh is a bad way to go, in my opinion. Better to wait until prices/demand is high for a particular species and harvest that species, all the time conducting TSI treatments and favoring your best quality trees and maximizing diversity with pulpwood harvesting and non-commercial cutting.
One last point is that now more than ever, you need a consulting forester to help you with your timber sale. Talk with some foresters and pick one you think is compatible with your plans for the property. Don’t be that guy who asks several foresters what he thinks the timber is worth with a walk-through and pick the one who gives the highest number. Be the elite 1% of landowners who choose to manage their timberland to maximize production and quality over the long haul.