Updated: Apr 10
"I'm ready to harvest my trees... but can you tell me how much my trees are worth?"
The answer: No- I cannot, especially without ever seeing your timber.
A local consultant might tell you a ball park range of expectations prior to cruising or viewing your trees, but he won't (and should never) tell you a valuation without checking out your site first. This would be like you asking a realtor how much your house is worth over the phone, but only saying "Yes... I have a house... it's 3bedrooms 2 baths, has a front door and a roof in Sunberry Hills Subdivision..." And expecting the realtor to reply back with something "I can get you $250k."
It just doesn't happen like that.
Likely the realtor will say "that neighborhood is going for $200-$250k", but they won't (and again, shouldn't) tell you a closer value without doing their recon first...
and neither should your forestry consultant.
So what are some of the factors consultants (and loggers and wood dealers) look at when determining your stumpage value? (Stumpage: the money paid to you, the landowner, for standing timber.)
Acreage. What size tract is the timber sale? Are you in the small category (10-45 acres) or medium to large size tract (50+ acres). Smaller acreages have the increased operational expenses for the size tract and volume of wood expected to be received, and therefore decrease stumpage value (generally).
2. Accessibility. Do you have internal roads in good condition? Or do your roads (if you have any) need rehab work before they're operable? Are you located on a major state highway, a county road, or do you have easements through three other landowners driveways to get to your tract? OR do you own a little island of timber only accessibly by ferry? The more difficult it is to access your timber, will provide a decrease in your stumpage, or potentially make it implausible to even log.
3. Products. What product classes exist with your timber? Pulpwood, chip-n-saw, sawtimber, poles, specialty products? There are a variety of product classes, and likely you have a combination of products- so the better question is what are the predominate classes standing on your land? Even within this question, the product prices can vary based on the next two factors...
4. Market Availability. What are YOUR local markets? Most mills (generally) will have a sourcing range of wood 60-100 miles. More mills you are within the range of equals more competition for your wood equals higher demand equals higher stumpage prices. For example, the pulpwood market is HIGH in Southeast Georgia with pulpwood stumpage often ranging between $15-$20/ton on average. You drive four hours to the north, where the pulpwood demand is not as competitive and stumpage can drop down to $5-$10/ton. Other examples you may hear big hype about are poles. "Poles are the product to grow, stumpage is $50/ton!" But....if there isn't a pole market near you, your precious pole timber is really only worth sawtimber prices, because that is the mill that is going to purchase your timber...
5. Weather. Weather can change the general rules for all of the above factors (except accessibility). Good weather (sunny and dry days), everyone's wood is available and accessible and therefore demand usually goes down and so does stumpage prices (generally). Bad weather though (rain, lots of rain, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, etc etc) can throw a wrench for stumpage valuations... a wrench to both sides of the spectrum to increasing prices significantly to dropping stumpage prices due to widespread salvage logging. Generally regular wet weather seasons though increases stumpage value because the mills need wood, but there are now less acceptable logging site options! Natural disasters however can do one of two things: flood the market devaluing everyone's timber in that region OR increasing the demand in market to offset shortages in other areas...
6. Land type. What type of ground do you own? Is it a wetter site that gets your boots mucky after a rainfall or is it a dryer upland tract? Wet sites are going to have limited seasons of logability/access (generally). Wetter sites are most likely to only be harvested during the dry season... when market demand is lower and therefore cannot participate in the higher stumpage periods wet weather often provides (this excludes swamp logging operations that have suitable equipment for these operations). Opposite of that, high dry land that can be logged year round is more likely to see higher stumpage values if their tract is saved to be harvested during the rainy seasons.
7. Location. This ties fairly strongly with the market considerations and access, but I generally point it out separately still. I do this mostly because many average landowners don't know ALL their market options, but DO know their county and maybe that "one mill" they may be near. But this also considers your location to other operations. For example, if you are 2 counties away from that particular logger's main operations OR are you in direct route between his two contracts AND the mill?
All in all, it's a combination of ALL the above factors being considered simultaneously, oftentimes even unconsciously, being put into play to determine the stumpage value you are offered.
Remember- for your timber to hold any value, economically, everyone "in the game" has to profit: the mills, the loggers, the forester
you, the landowner.