Selling Walnut Timber

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Published on: Jan. 18, 2013

Everybody knows a walnut tree is worth a thousand dollars or more, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t true as often as landowners might hope. However, walnut trees do produce high-end lumber, and you should work to get the best price, even if your trees aren’t veneer quality. Missouri has an abundance of walnut trees. In fact, we have more than twice as many walnut trees than any other state. If you have walnut trees on your property and are looking to sell them, there are some things you should know before you make that first cut.

Making the Grade

There are two basic levels of wood quality when dealing with black walnut — lumber grade and veneer. There are several lumber-grade trees for every veneer-grade tree. That’s why the veneer trees are worth so much — they are rare. You may be able to determine if your tree is lumber or veneer grade by examining the diameter of the tree, the height of the trunk before there is a limb, and the number of defects on the trunk.

The standard for measuring the diameter of a tree is at 4 1/2 feet above the ground, on the uphill side of the tree. To qualify for Grade A veneer, the tree would need to be at least 19 inches in diameter, or 60 inches in circumference. Although it is possible to sell a tree at this size, it is a wiser financial move to keep the tree until it gains more diameter. For example, a black walnut tree that is Grade A veneer at 19 inches diameter is only going to bring the owner $700–$800. If the owner allows the tree to add another 6 inches of diameter, he or she can easily double that income.

Field or Forest

A black walnut tree grown in a field or pasture is usually similar in value to a nice oak tree grown in the forest. One reason for this is that the

length of clear log (trunk with no limbs or defects) is very important to the value of the tree.

At least 9 feet of clear trunk is required to make the good veneer grades. Many trees grown in open spaces will produce limbs low and in all directions from the trunk. This may look nice for a yard tree, but it decreases the timber value. If the tree forks into more than one trunk, or has limbs within 9 feet of ground level, it no longer qualifies as high-grade veneer.

The second problem with most field-grown black walnut trees is the number of defects on the tree. Any blemishes on a tree are considered defects. Each defect reduces the value of the tree. High value black walnut trees typically have large diameters, are straight, and have no defects for a long way up the trunk. One hit with the brush hog will take the tree out of the most valuable veneer category. The wound created by the injury causes the tree to produce callous wood in an effort to seal the wound.

That is a defect. Livestock around field-grown walnut trees also produce defects. Not only can they cause direct damage to the trunk, but their hooves can break the feeder roots of the trees and cause a stain in the wood. Other common defects are bird peck and cat face. Bird peck is, as the name implies, caused by sapsuckers or other woodpeckers making small holes in the trunk. Cat face generally results from a limb dying. The tree  creates callous wood around that old limb site that resembles a cat’s face.

To learn more about caring for young walnut trees to get the best timber prices, go to mdc.mo.gov/node/4188.

Selling Your Timber

If you are fortunate enough to have several walnut trees on your property that have reached their economic and physiological maturity, then it’s time to sell them. With a little planning, this task does not have to be a stressful event. The easiest way to get top dollar for your trees and be satisfied with the process and outcome is to hire a consulting forester to assist you. Consulting foresters are professional foresters who work for themselves or a private company. For a fee, usually a percentage of what the sale brings, they can handle the sale and protect your interests during the harvest. You can find someone to assist you at the Missouri Consulting Foresters Association website at missouriforesters.com.

If you decide to handle the timber sale, a little work before you cut will help ensure that you receive the most from your trees. First, you need to decide which trees need to be harvested. Mark, count, and measure the trees so you know exactly what you are selling. Guides to help you measure and grade walnut logs can be found in MDC’s publication Forest Management for Missouri Landowners, available at mdc4.mdc.mo.gov/Documents/318.pdf, on the University of Missouri Extension website at extension.missouri.edu/p/G5055, by contacting an MDC forester, or by calling your regional office to have one mailed to you. Once you know what you are selling, you can estimate the value of that timber in the Missouri Timber Price Trends. This publication, found on the MDC website at mdc.mo.gov/node/9320, or available from your regional office, provides the prices given for timber based on species, grade, location, and season. This will give you an idea of what your timber is worth — similar to looking up the Kelley Blue Book value if you were selling a car.

Find a Logger

Now you need to find someone to purchase and harvest your trees. A list of potential bidders is available by contacting your local MDC forester or consulting forester. Local foresters often have experience working with the loggers in your area. Master loggers are available in Missouri. Master Loggers are professional, trained, and meet the highest standards placed on the industry. There are also many loggers that have completed Professional Timber Harvester Training (PTH). Loggers that have completed the PTH training have the knowledge necessary to safely harvest your trees while taking care of the residual forest and soil. Your local forester or the Missouri Forest Products Association website, moforest.org, has a list of both Master Loggers and PTH trained loggers.

Sending out a request for bids to prospective loggers will let them know that you have trees to sell. The bid sheet should include your contact information, the location, details about the estimated number, size, and grade of the trees, and the deadline to receive their bid. Samples of bid sheets and contracts are available in the previously mentioned Forest Management for Missouri Landowners publication. Competition generally results in increased revenue. You should solicit bids from several potential bidders. A list of loggers who work in your area can be obtained through your local MDC forester.

Higher volumes and quality usually result in more interested bidders. Most perspective bidders will want to come look at the trees for sale (a good reason to have them marked) before they submit a bid for your trees. Meet with them so you get an idea of which loggers you feel comfortable with, ask for — and check — references. Make sure you both understand what is expected during the harvest process. This will help you make the final decision of who you want harvesting your trees.

Economics may limit the number of loggers interested in bidding. Loggers must consider distance, time, equipment costs, value of the wood, and any risks they may be taking. Risk is one of the reasons a tree near a home generally can’t be sold. Within city limits a city business license is often required (which a logger probably does not have). The large amount of risk associated with harvesting the tree seldom outweighs the profit. Even if the tree is worth a few hundred dollars, it may not be worth the risk if the tree might damage a house or powerline. The potential for the tree to have metal, or some other blade-damaging item, in it also increases in trees located near a house.

Create a Contract

Once you have decided on a logger, you need a written contract. A contract will protect both you and the logger from any misunderstandings. One of the primary components of the contract is how and when you are to receive the money for your trees.

The safest and easiest way to get your money is called a “lump sum.” This method of payment requires the logger to pay you the full price he offered for the timber — generally received before any trees are cut. Many loggers will want to harvest your timber on “shares” because it guarantees he will not lose money on the sale. Cutting on shares means you have agreed on a percentage split of the profits. The profit is determined by the payment the logger receives at the sawmill. Although it is common for oak sales to be split 50/50, a walnut sale should have a higher percentage going to the landowner.

That percentage will increase with the increase in quality of the timber. Sixty percent to the landowner and 40 for the logger is common in lower-quality timber sales. Percentages can go up to 80 percent to the landowner and 20 percent to the logger on really high-value timber sales. Timber sales should be supervised by both the landowner and a forester. Periodically checking the progress of a sale will help ensure the contract is being followed. It also conveys that you are concerned about your remaining forest, soil, and property.

Not every black walnut tree is worth thousands of dollars, but they are still an important part of our forest industry and valuable to landowners. Knowing more about the sale of timber can make a big difference in your profit and how satisfied you are after the harvest.

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