Arkansas’s timber industry contributes $6.4 billion to our economy, and today I’d like to talk about the many benefits of the forests to our state and also the effect of the ongoing trade war.
Agriculture is Arkansas’s number one industry. It is easy to forget that the timber industry is part of that. But timber production is a crop just like rice or soybeans or cotton. The people who raise trees are tree farmers. Like other crops, timber is at the mercy of natural disasters such as fire, flood, drought, and insect infestations.
The money that the timber industry brings in to Arkansas is a third of agriculture’s $20 billion in income. The timber industry employs 28,000 people directly, and provides more than 60,000 other jobs indirectly through equipment sales and maintenance, fuel suppliers, diesel mechanics, and mill supply stores, to name a few.
The people who haul logs need hard hats, boots, chain saws, and trucks, and those trucks need diesel fuel, tires, and maintenance.
And there are many other reasons our forests are important to our state. Trees minimize erosion and scrub the air of certain pollutants. Trees beautify the landscape. Tens of thousands of people – Arkansans and outdoor lovers from around the world – hike, bike, camp, and fish in our forests. In the autumn, tourists flock to northwest Arkansas to see our trees turn color, which is a symphony for the eyes.
The list of the variety of trees we grow is long. The primary species of pine are loblolly and shortleaf. We also grow slash pine. Other softwoods include cypress, cedar, and eastern red cedar.
We grow 160 species of hardwoods, including red and white oak, hickory, sweet gum, white and green ash, hackberry, and west of the Mississippi River at Crowley’s Ridge, yellow poplar.
Timber is a renewable resource, and through smart stewardship, Arkansas is planting 1.6 trees for every tree that is harvested. We sell wood for paper, pellets for fuel, pallets, poles, plywood, crossties, furniture, flooring, barrel staves, and construction.
We can attribute much of the success of our timber industry to good management practices, which include a robust program for prescribed burns. Prescribed burning, which burns up the fuel on the forest floor, is the best defense against wildfires.
Just like the rest of our agricultural products, we depend upon exports. Until recently, China was our biggest timber market, but with the trade war, exports of U.S. timber to China have fallen by 40 percent. The Chinese government has imposed retaliatory tariffs of up to 25 percent on imports of U.S. lumber and other wood products.
It is also important to pass the U.S. Mexico-Canada trade agreement, or new NAFTA, to assure fairness for our timber industry in North American trade.
I am confident the tariff dispute will end. But I also am confident that regardless of how long it lasts or what our trade looks like when it’s over, Arkansas’s timber industry will emerge stronger than ever. Our farmers, like the trees they grow, are a hardy bunch.