Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR) – March 5, 2006
Money grows on trees
Black walnut wood lucrative for enterprising loggers
Author: CRISTAL CODY ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
COLCORD, Okla. – Loggers travel hundreds of miles across Arkansas and into other states in search of black walnut timber, considered a “money tree” because of its rarity and prized wood.
More than 300,000 board feet of black walnut lumber were harvested in Arkansas last year by one logger. (A board measuring 1-foot square and 1-inch thick equals 1 board foot.)
Wyatt Williams, owner of Long Valley Timber, a buyer of large and small tracts of walnut and cherry trees, was busy in late February cutting logs. He said black walnut timber usually is harvested in the north-central and northwest parts of the state from September through May, when the sap is down in the trees and the bark stays on longer.
Long Valley Timber harvested more than 102 walnut trees last month from a 15-acre tract on a miles-long rocky, dirt road outside Colcord, Okla., just a few miles from Gentry, Ark.
The trees sold for $26,000 to a local sawmill, Williams said. “Now you see why people want their walnut cut,” he said. The company’s prof its, like other loggers, are gained through a fee of about 40 percent of each harvest’s value, Williams said. “Few other loggers! do walnut” because the trees are scarce and usually in out-of-the-way sites that make cutting and transporting difficult, Williams said. For that reason, only four of the 24 sawmills in Arkansas that are members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association process or sell walnut lumber.
Based in Huntsville, in Northwest Arkansas, Williams will travel up to 150 miles in any direction in search of good, standing walnut trees.
He’ll only travel in a 70-mile radius for other hardwood timber such as oak, the most popular wood but readily available across the state in big-box stores.
“Stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot all supply the most popular stuff, mostly pine, oak and birch,” said Jeanette Thomas, a commercial sales associate at Lowe’s Companies Inc. There’s not enough black walnut lumber to keep it in inventory, she said.
Walnut lumber, a specialty wood, is hard to find in southern Arkansas because the trees mostly grow in the mountainous portion of ! the state and into Missouri, which has a thriving walnut-lumbe! r indust ry.
Black walnut is the most valuable and sought-after tree in the Midwest, according to the Missouri Department of Con- servation. The species is native to the eastern United States, and can reach a height of 120 feet and a diameter of more than 3 feet. The light brown wood often has a purplish cast and dark streaks.
A tree with a tall straight trunk and few branches could fetch $3,000, but those are rare, Williams said.
Walnut trees with lots of branches or crooked trunks make poor lumber, while those with straight, tall trunks and few branches are used for high-end furniture and veneer. Lower grades of walnut lumber are used for cabinets and flooring.
Prices paid from October through December for black walnut veneer ranged from $335 to $3,335 per 1,000 board feet, with an average of $1,360. That’s down from the average price of $2,295 paid in the same period in 2004, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation Timber Price Trends report.<p!>
In comparison, white oak veneer fetched an average price of only $835 per 1,000 board feet in the last quarter, the same amount as a year earlier. Williams said he is always looking for that one “money tree” that will fetch $1,000 to $3,000.
About 11 million black walnut trees grow on public and private land in Arkansas, said Bob Levins, field auditor supervisor with the Little Rock-based Arkansas Forestry Commission, a government agency created in 1931.
“They’re concentrated in the northwest central, in lower Carroll and Madison [counties], before you get into the real steep foothills,” Levins said. “The ones across the Mississippi Delta, there’s a reason for them: Someone planted much of them.”
Once south of the Arkansas River, the state’s hardwood forest gives way to pine trees, which grow rapidly, according to the Arkansas Forestry Association, a Little Rock-based nonprofit trade group whose members together own nearly 57 perce! nt of the state’s forestland.
No state or trade groups t! rack the number of walnut trees harvested in the state, Levins said.
“People that cut walnut are those that, like the biblical gatherers, know what they’re looking for,” he said. “They may have to go through the whole state to find what they need.”
Walnut ranks probably sixth in terms of harvest, with pine, oak and ash the most popular, Levins said.
“When you get into the specialty market, it’s very time-consuming,” he said. “That’s why pine is cheaper. It’s amazing how hardwood panel with a little bit of walnut trim inset in them raises the price triple because it’s a specialty wood.”
Pines represent 27 percent of the state’s trees but about 70 percent of the state’s timber production, according to the Arkansas Forestry Association. About 55 percent of Arkansas’ total land area, or approximately 18.4 million acres, is productive timberland, according to the Arkansas Forestry Association.
The Arkansas Forestry Commission and the University of Arkansas’ ! Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service in Little Rock help property owners manage and sell their timber.
“Unless you have experience, get a professional registered forester to sell for you,” said Tamara Walkingstick, associate professor of forestry extension for the UA Extension Service.
“In Arkansas, most of our timber basket is down in the southwest with pine, but we have a growing hardwood market,” she said. “Folks with quality black walnut can probably find a good buyer. It is one of the highest-value trees in the state.”
Rick Shelton, a hardwoods lumber broker with Mill Direct Hardwoods in Monticello, said walnut sales have grown with the popularity of the flooring industry.
“It’s always been a desirable species, but lately it has gotten more desirable,” he said. “Red oak is down in consumer demand, compared to walnut, which is on the increase.”
Mike Banks, who operates J.R. Banks Lumber Co. Inc., ! a sawmill in Fayetteville, mostly handles red and white oak bu! t does s tock a small portion of lower-grade walnut logs.
“The majority of it we don’t even see. It gets trucked out of here,” Banks said.
“Walnut-log buyers are in Arkansas, but everything they buy goes to Missouri or gets shipped overseas.”
Missouri Walnut LLC in Neosho, Mo., a major supplier of walnut veneer logs and saw logs, exports 150 containers of logs a month.
Of the 125,000 cubic meters of black walnut produced in 2004 in the United States, 91,000 cubic meters were exported, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Black walnut is the most-exported wood by percentage of harvest, with 73 percent exported in 2004, up from the 60 percent exported in 2003.
Most of the walnut trees Williams of Long Valley Timber harvested in late February will be shipped to China and Italy for lumber and veneer.
“About all of it goes overseas, so they can make stuff and sell it back to us,” Williams said.
Michael Coble, owner of Coble Logging, which buys sta! nding timber and cut walnut, oak and cherry logs, grew up in the Missouri logging business.
He travels across Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas for walnut timber.
“I have done a little exporting myself, but there’s no money in it, so I sell to exporters,” Coble said.
He has sold walnut trees for as much as $6,000 each, but that was exceptional.
“It’s a specialty,” Coble said. “I’ve sold some for $7 a foot this year. It just depends on the log.”
The value also depends on how long walnut lumber stays in demand. The walnut market operates in spurts, Williams said.
“It may go five years and be real good, then the market will be down five or six years, and then it’ll come back around,” he said. “It’s been good the last four or five years. Eventually [walnut lumber] will flood the market, and prices will go back down. It all depends on supply and demand.”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bob Coleman
Wyatt Williams, owner of Huntsville-based Long Valley Timber, watches as a black walnut tree he cut crashes to the ground outside Colcord, Okla., near the Arkansas border.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bob Coleman Michael Coble, who marks timber for Long Valley Timber so the logs are cut properly to draw the best price, points out a forked part of a black walnut tree that produces sections used to make gunstocks.
SOURCE: Missouri Department of Conservation, Forestry Division Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Copyright 2006, 2012, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Record Number: 13C4D3B1D0225B18