As a land owner with a large stand of trees, you know that the trees on your woodlot represent a valuable resource. Before you decide to sell your trees for lumber, be sure you do some research with a qualified professional, understand the value of your trees and make a plan for sustaining the health of your timberland.
Evaluate the Demand for Your Trees
With any product, you need to know if what you're selling is in demand and how much it is worth in the marketplace. The same is true for trees. Lumber mills and wood product manufacturers are looking for both hardwood and softwood depending on what they produce, and the cost of each type of wood is based on varying market prices.
Timber milled into lumber is used for several purposes. It can be cut into sturdy beams and used for structural supports or into boards or trim and used for decorative finishing. Other timber is used for supporting vertical loads, such as utility poles.
Small pieces that are left over from the milling process or smaller trees that cannot be milled into boards can be processed into pulpwood, which is used to make paper products, or wood chips and then sold to the landscaping industry. Prices for the timber you harvest will vary depending on the end use of the timber and prevailing market rates.
Price Variables for Timber
How do you determine the value of your trees? Unfortunately, there is no set formula for calculating exactly how much your 40-foot-tall white oak is worth. There are a variety of factors that affect pricing, but there are basic guidelines that will help you get a good estimate of what you should be paid.
Location: Prices will vary within regions of the country, so a land owner in the South may not get the same price as someone in the Northwest even though they sell the same species of tree. Proximity to one or more mills is a plus, as you are likely to get a better price due to lower transportation costs.
Additionally, the ease with which the timber can be harvested is also directly related to how much you will receive for the timber. If your land is far from a major road, is located on a steep slope or equipment must be transported over difficult terrain to get to the harvest site,
the lumber company's cost will be higher, thus lowering your price.
Acreage: Harvest costs will also fluctuate based on the number of trees you are selling. If you have a woodland with several hundred or even a thousand acres of trees, a logging company can acquire more product in one trip; therefore, their overall costs are reduced, and they can pass on the savings to you. However, if you are only selling a few trees spread over only 10 acres of forest, the harvesting cost is higher, and you will receive a lower price per tree.
Varying species: Prices will also vary depending on the type of trees you are selling as well as the quality of the wood. For example, selling oak trees for lumber will yield a different price than if you sell varieties of pine, which are typically sold at a much lower price point. Also, a tall, straight tree will yield more lengthy boards, whereas a shorter tree with lots of branching or knots will not produce as much high-quality wood.
* Regulations: State and local laws regulate the way in which timber is harvested, so companies may be limited in what they can cut from your land. Regulations are put in place to protect animal and plant populations, safeguard stream erosion and track the types of equipment used for harvesting. The more regulations affect the harvest on your property, the less money you will likely make on the deal.
Utilize an Expert Forest Consultant
Before you accept bids and sign an agreement with a logging company or harvester for a mill, seek the advice of an independent forestry professional. These licensed, expert consultants can determine the quality of your trees and are familiar with the fair market values in your region. Keep in mind that the main goal of a harvesting company is to acquire lumber at the lowest-possible cost, so quotes and information you might receive from them may have a bias. However, an independent forester works for you and will provide you with honest and fair advice.
Independent consultants also provide information focused on the health of your timberland. They will make recommendations about how to protect your trees by insisting on logging practices that don't damage the surrounding trees, and they can advise you on how to plan for future growth through selective harvesting and replanting.
You can locate an independent forestry contractor through your state forest service or by working with the U.S. Forest Service in your region. The National Association of State Foresters maintains a website with pertinent information on forest management and contact information for forestry consultants in each state.
Scaling and Grading of Logs
As the forester inspects your timber, he will determine the amount of wood each specific tree will yield using the industry standard measurement of MFB or thousand-board feet. A single-board foot unit measures 1 foot long by 1 foot wide and 1 inch thick.
The forester will calculate the board feet based on the tree's diameter and standing merchantable height, and this number is a key factor in determining the price you will receive. However, the number of board feet might end up being less if the inside of the tree is hollow or if there is excessive knotting or damage to the tree.
Sell Trees for Lumber
Once you know which trees you want harvested, you'll need to advertise to potential buyers and gather bids. You might sell to companies that buy oak trees for lumber, directly to a mill or to a logging company that will in turn sell to a mill for processing. Selling directly to a mill may eliminate the middleman, but getting several bids will help you determine which path works best for you.
After you select the winning bid, create a contract that thoroughly outlines your expectations for the harvest. Clearly indicate which trees are to be cut, define the property boundaries and set your expectations for how the remaining trees should be treated as well as the cleanup of the property following the harvest. Include the agreed-upon prices and require a down payment of at least 25%.
Sales for Individual Trees
In general, harvesting companies and mills work with land owners who have very large tracts of land from which to select trees. However, it might be possible to sell the wood from just a few trees on your property and get paid for tree removal rather than having to pay for the work to be done.
SellYourTrees.com is a national company that networks with small, local tree companies to harvest trees from properties of around 10 acres. They broker the deal for you and get a crew to remove the trees at no charge to you while paying you for the lumber. Similarly, you might be able to set up your own deal with a sawmill in your area, but again, it is a good idea to seek the advice of a forestry consultant first.
Before you bring any company onto your land for harvesting or hauling, make sure they carry workers' compensation and liability insurance in the event that a worker is injured on your property.
Elisabeth Natter is a business owner and professional writer. She has done public relations work for several nonprofit organizations and currently creates content for clients of her suburban Philadelphia communications and IT solutions company. Her writing is often focused on small business issues and best practices for organizations. Her work has appeared in the business sections of chron.com, azcentral and Happenings Media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Temple University.