Mississippi's 2003 timber industry did not begin its climb out of the depression of recent years, but officials believe the descent has stabilized and recovery should be in the near future.

Agricultural economists and forestry specialists with Mississippi State University's Extension Service are predicting the value of Mississippi's 2003 timber harvest at $1.03 billion, compared to 2002's value of almost $1.04 billion. That prediction represents a 0.3 percent decrease.

“The declining value of timber seems to be bottoming out,” said Bob Daniels, Extension forestry specialist. “In 2001, there was more than a 17 percent decline in timber production value; then in 2002, the decline was only 3.6 percent. We hope this year's decline of less than 1 percent is a sign that the industry has stabilized and should begin to improve next year as the economy strengthens.”

Wet weather in 2003 is the likely cause for reducing the state's harvest volume by about 4 percent. Excessive rains fell across the state throughout the year.

“Rains were an obstacle to harvest operations most of the year and drove prices higher,” Daniels said. “Through the first of December, rainfall was running from 4.4 inches above normal in Jackson to 13.5 inches above normal in Meridian.”

Daniels said Mississippi's forest economy has changed significantly in recent years.

“Paper products (paper, corrugated board and pulp) are declining in importance to the state. We've had two paper mills close in recent years,” he said. “In 1990, pulpwood was nearly 37 percent of our timber value; in 2002, it was 20 percent.

Daniels said Mississippi's forest economy is very dependent on pine sawtimber products, such as lumber, plywood and poles. In 2002, pine logs represented 66 percent of the value of our timber harvest.

“Markets for pine products were good this year. Delivered prices for pine logs were up about 2 percent and pulpwood prices were up more than 10 percent,” he said. “Hardwood log prices remained steady but Southern hardwood lumber prices improved as a result of limited supplies from the year before.”

Optimistic about the next year's potential, Daniels said the forest economy grows along with the overall national economy.

“The forest economy is dependent on pine lumber and structural panels. The fact that there were almost 2 million housing starts through October was very positive for the timber industry,” Daniels said. “Continued low interest rates also help. People are more inclined to remodel and repair projects on their houses, and those activities are a big source of lumber demand.”


Linda Breazeale writes for MSU Ag Communications.