When you start managing your land, unless you're a forester yourself, you probably need to enlist the assistance of your local resources and a forestry consultant. Depending what you are wanting done, utilizing your free local resources (county foresters, federal technical service providers, biologists and such) is highly advised. However there are two times I would highly recommend hiring a consultant.
The FIRST is when you have a large amount of acreage and will be doing multiple operations during the year and periodically. A large amount of acreage might be considered something in the HUNDREDS of acres or in the THOUSANDS of acres, depending on your location and diversity/complexity of your land, and what you are trying to accomplish.
The second, and most important, time to hire a consultant is when you are preparing to harvest and sell your timber. I say this is the most important time to hire a professional because you just spent the last 15 (thinning) to 30 years (final clearcut) growing your investment. You want to be sure you are not only maximizing your profit but also be sure you have your t's crossed and i's dotted in regards to county ordinances, regulations and best management practices that may apply on your land to do what is best and most sustainable. A consultant would help you maximize the exposure of your timber sale- providing the most opportunities for folks to bid on your trees- and understanding how the free market works:
more opportunities = more competition = generally better prices and profit for you.
We won't be going into what factors go into the stumpage (stumpage is the price paid to the landowner for standing trees) in this article -> but questions to ask to find the RIGHT consultant for YOU.
It's important to hire someone you feel comfortable with because you are entrusting them with your investment you have been growing for the last 15 to 30 years. And as previously mentioned in past articles - you are likely to only be present for 2 to 3 clearcuts in your lifetime... so make it count!
If this is your first timber sale - finding the right consultant can be daunting. How do you know if they're the right fit for you? What should I even ask to get the conversation going, or to be able to compare consultants?
Well below you will see 5 questions to help you start the interviewing process...
1) How much are you charging for your commission? How do you get paid?
- The average going rate for a forest consultant, in Georgia, to handle your timber sale is 4% to 6% of the total sale. (Some consultants may be less and some more --- again, depending on the complexity of your timber sale AND what all is included service-wise with their commission).
Is it worth a percent of your sale to hire a consultant?
You will easily make up that percent in sell just from the exposure they can provide you to the market. Like selling your home - when you want to get the most money out of your home AND sell it as quickly as possible, you hire a realtor. They have access to a lot of spaces you wouldn't have if you were doing a "sell by owner", and they help for you to get the most money possible out of your home - the same is true from your forest consultant.
2) What services are included with that commission rate?
- What can you expect from them? How often will they be at the logging site? Will they assist in the reforestation process (or is that an additional fee, and if so how much?) You want to be sure you have clear expectations of what you are receiving for your money.
3) What type of timber sale do you recommend?
- Lump sum or pay-as-cut? There are pros and cons to each type of sale, and each consultant probably has a preference of which they prefer to operate under, but ask what type of sale they recommend for your situation, and commonly handle. Be sure they explain the difference between the two types of sales and why they recommend the one or the other for you... if they aren't willing to take the time to explain this process and the why factors, they may not be the right fit for you.
4) What types of products can you expect to be harvested?
- This is especially important if they recommend a pay-as-cut type sale. There are a multitude of products: pulpwood, chip-in-saw, sawtimber, poles, veneer, various specialty products. What types of products do they expect to come off your land? They of course won't know the exact volume or ratio expectations of products - but you can expect them to know what type of product classes your trees are in and where they plan to market to or sort by. I say this is especially important for pay-as-cut, because often times those prices are broken down by product type per ton... so you want to have an idea of which prices you should pay particular attention to during the bid process... most likely the bidding will be taken care by your consultant, but YOU should WANT to be a part of the entire process and know what you should be receiving. For a lump sum sale, it is still important to know what product classes you have, as the cruise you should be receiving to have an estimate of volume and value of your sell, will be based around the product classes you have produced. However, for a lump sum... after you receive your check, it is ultimately up to the logger/dealer to sort to the best of their ability.
5) Is this the best time to cut my timber - based on what I have AND my local markets - and if I cut now, how long can I expect the harvest to take, what is the length of time to harvest in the contract, and when could I expect to replant new trees?
- This is a long winded question... I know, but they are all inter-related and important to understand upfront. The first part of this question: best time based on what you have... this includes your current tree growth and land suitability with the local markets. It may be your trees are still growing strong (putting on good volume) and if you wait another couple years you may have more desirable and higher priced products (sawtimber and poles are often referred to as higher priced and more desirable). Or maybe you have a great piece of dry land that would be more desired and fetch a better stumpage price during the rainy season when mills are looking to meet quotas and loggers are looking for dry land to operate on. Finally, it is important to know your local markets... just because you've always heard poles are the highest priced products, if you don't have a pole mill within 200 miles of your land, it doesn't matter if the price for poles reach $2,000/ton because your wood will never be headed in that direction. The same is true on the opposite spectrum. If you have a booming pulp market (pulp being one of the lowest priced and quality products) with 3 different pulp mills in a 50 mile radius from you, it may not necessarily be worth your wallet to wait to grow your trees an additional 5 to 10 years and receive "sawtimber" prices... especially if the pulp market has the stumpage price only a few dollars shorter from sawtimber prices.
So understanding what you have and your markets can help you decide when to cut - but also get the expectation of how long you can expect the loggers to take once harvesting begins. Will it be three days or three weeks? This similarly will tie in with your length of contract. Most contracts are written to allow between 12 to 18 months to start and complete the harvest. This allows for the loggers to move not only onto your site but also for weather considerations. If weather (aka rain - or snow in some parts of the world) occurs, the operation may need to pause for a period of time - or in some cases they may need to move off site and return at a later date to finish (this of course is the less ideal situation, but may be necessary dependent on your land and if weather conditions are bad enough). Loggers and foresters aren't trying to take a "longer time" but rather follow the best management practices of the state - which are voluntary practices loggers and foresters follow to be environmentally sustainable and help promote clean water.
Finally, before you end your interview always ask if there is anything else you need to know or be aware of. There may or may not be anything in particular for them to add - but a good consultant will always want to know what your objectives for your property are. Everyone has their general style of how they prefer to work, but always remember they work for YOU, the landowner, and because they should have a clear understanding of what you are ultimately wanting.
There are many more questions you can and may think of. These are just the top 5 to help you get the conversation going. Remembering you are entrusting them with your investment, so you should feel comfortable and confident in them to represent you and your goals. Call multiple consultants to compare answers - if none of them feel like the "right fit" for you - keep looking and calling until you do find the right person. Don't ever get rushed or feel hurried to make a decision this big.
Someone once told me "you can't uncut trees"... so don't feel sorry for taking your time.
(There is only 2 times I can think of that time would be of the essence for harvest: cases of wildfire salvage harvesting and southern pine beetle outbreak. If neither of these are the case for you, don't let anyone rush you to harvest.)
Always remember - you . are . in . charge .