How the wood producing industry is adjusting to the times

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Posted at 8:54 PM, May 20, 2022

The wood industry has seen a lot of challenges in the last few years during the pandemic, which has caused a lot of price shifts.

Many companies have been affected, from sawmills to contractors, to small woodworkers and even consumers.

Within the last couple of years, the price of processed wood products increased significantly. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, processed wood prices nearly quadrupled. Wholesale prices for plywood increased from $400 to $1500 per thousand square sheets, according to NASDAQ information.

Near Portage Lake, Maine you’ll find many different sawmills producing high-quality Maine-grown lumber.

And lumber is one of the things Maine does best.

The logging industry in Maine makes up about 7.8 billion dollars of the U.S.’s economy, according to a study done by the University of Maine.

As for the global wood industry, information from IBISWorld reported the leading timber-producing countries are China, the United States, and Japan. The U.S. contributes 18 percent of the world’s timber production.

As far as the largest wood product exporters, the top three are China, Canada, and the U.S.

The country contributes about 8.4 percent of the world’s total exports of wood products with the primary one being lumber. The lumber industry is growing at an annualized rate of 6.9 percent and generating more than 135 billion dollars over the last five years.

But the price and demand for lumber significantly increased when the pandemic started. Maine Woods Company has been around for more than 20 years, supplying lumber to the entire world while creating jobs for the small community it resides in.

But just like every business in the world, Scott said the supply chain issues over the past couple of years have made production more challenging.

“We have let down a fair amount of our customers not having been able to supply what their needs have been, the same has been true for the supplies we need,” Scott said. “The demand has been excellent for our product, but we’ve struggled to keep a full workforce. It’s been a frustrating time for different reasons, and we have yet to get back to a fully staffed production rate. I don’t know when we will.”

Experts report that some of the major lumber supply chain issues come from a workforce shortage that was triggered by the pandemic. The domino effect continued with a lack of truckers to move materials, and now the increase in gas prices has all led to an increase in wood prices for everyone.

“Manufacturing has certainly become more expensive,” Scott said. “And on top of that we had to try and keep pace with inflation with wages which we thought we have done at the beginning of the year, but we had to recently do it again.”

Scott said more employees are needed in the industry. Most companies have raised their wages; however, it still hasn’t helped much when it comes to recruiting.

Higher pay didn’t result in enough extra workers to make up for increased demand and limited supply because high-level skills are needed to work with the advanced machines.

“Manufacturing is the key to security to the way of life going forward,” Scott said. “If you don’t have manufacturing then what do you have? Cause we all can’t sit at home and sell things if there’s nothing to sell.”

The wood industry, though, never stops. And Maine Woods Company will continue to process and push its suppliers to help keep the country a reliable lumber exporter. If big companies are feeling the weight of the supply chain issues in their operations, then small town made in America businesses may feel the weight even more.

Siders Wood Crafting is in Bangor, Maine, and run by Bruce Graybill and his wife Mary. Even in the high timber-producing state of Maine, Graybill said work has been challenging.

Supply and demand for products determine the price of commodities, and experts say more investment in increasing pay for employees and increasing the number of technically competent employees to help increase production can help drive those prices down.

But this is the lumber industry, and the demand for wood is always going to be there. It’s how to keep up with that demand that the industry consistently is trying to adjust to.