Curt C. Hassler, WVU Appalachian Hardwood Center (AHC), chasslerwv@gmail.com

Yellow-poplar has a unique role in Appalachian region procurement activities, especially in areas with relatively close proximity to mills that rely heavily on yellow-poplar peelers for their raw material. As these mills compete with hardwood sawmills for yellow-poplar the challenge for suppliers lies in deciding when to merchandise peelers versus sawlogs. The issue becomes more complicated because peeler specifications generally require 9- and 18-foot lengths (and longer lengths in 9-foot increments), while traditional hardwood sawmills are seeking logs of 8 to 16 feet in even lengths (8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 feet). Perhaps the most challenging factor in the peeler versus sawlog decision is how the two different products are measured in the purchasing process…peelers generally by the ton (weight scaling by the truckload) and sawlogs by the number of board feet (stick scaling, where the diameter and length of each log are measured to determine board foot volume).

The WVU Appalachian Hardwood Center (AHC) has, over the last decade plus, conducted over 60 sawmill studies throughout the Appalachian region. These studies collected data on individual logs, where each log was measured and characterized according to a number of variables, including scaling diameter, length, scaling defects, as well as a number of other variables and then numbered on each end. The logs were then processed through the sawmill. Each board was graded and scaled, and the dimensions of each cant recorded, with all data being recorded by log number. The database contains over 4,600 logs of data and in many cases, the weight of each log was also determined.

In the case of yellow-poplar, the database contains 649 logs with accompanying weights. For each of these logs there is also an accompanying log scale. Log scale is available in Doyle, International ¼”, Scribner, and Scribner Decimal C for each log. Since results from a recent survey of procurement practices in the Appalachian region¹ showed that the Doyle rule was used exclusively in West Virginia, the following analysis will be based on Doyle log scale. For others interested in Scribner or International log scales a similar analysis could be conducted.

Table 1 provides the basic data for deciding whether to produce peelers versus sawlogs and is based on log scaling diameter (column 1), the total weight of the logs in the sample (column 2), the gross Doyle scale of the logs in the sample (column 3), the tons per mbf (column 4), and the number of logs in the sample for that log diameter (column 5).

Table 1. Results from a sample of 649 yellow-poplar logs using log weights to determine tons per mbf over a range of scaling diameters.

As illustrated in Table 1, tons per mbf decrease as scaling diameter increases. This makes sense since the Doyle log rule significantly underestimates the volume/board footage in smaller logs and as diameter increases the Doyle rule more accurately estimates the
actual log volume.

How then, can this information be used by suppliers to make decisions about merchandising their yellow-poplar to competing markets. Table 2 provides insights into that decision. The first column repeats the scaling diameters from Table 1. Columns 2 through 6 provide the value of peelers for various peelers prices per ton ($60, $70, $80, $90, and $100 per ton, respectively). For instance, taking the 15-inch diameter, it takes 5.61 tons (Table 1) to achieve one mbf of logs. At $80 per ton that amounts to $449 per mbf. If the logger is NOT able to achieve a higher rate per mbf for the 15-inch logs, it is better to merchandise this size log into peelers. In effect, the dollar amounts in the table reflect the breakeven price for choosing between producing peelers and sawlogs.

Table 2. Breakeven pricing for producing peelers versus sawlogs at a range of peeler prices, by diameter class.

It has traditionally been difficult to compare outcomes and opportunities when dealing with products having different measurement protocols, such as tons versus mbf. This analysis provides a broad perspective on when peelers might be more economically viable than sawlogs, where tons per mbf is the operable measure for pricing decisions. It specifically provides guidance across a range of diameter classes but does not provide specific guidance for differing log quality within a diameter class. That guidance can be established by the supplier.

For instance, at a peeler price of $80 per ton and 16-inch logs, the equivalent price per mbf is $423. This guidance works well if the supplier is receiving $423 per mbf or more across all grades of 16-inch logs so that it is better to market sawlogs. However, if the supplier is getting substantially more than $423 per mbf for 16-inch, four clear face logs, then the choice is obviously to produce sawlogs from those types of logs. However, for a 16-inch, one clear face log, if the price is below $423 per mbf, then the choice would be to market a peeler. Therefore, a supplier should maintain awareness about the sawmill pricing for sawlogs across all quality classifications in making decisions about producing peelers versus sawlogs.

In the case of contract loggers, the contracting mill could easily apply this same strategy to maximize the return on their stumpage. It would simply be a matter of conveying to the contract logger the merchandizing protocols for peelers and sawlogs, based on the mill’s pricing per mbf of sawlogs.

Another important consideration is the trucking cost of the competing alternatives. If the distance to the mills is different, then that cost differential should be included in determining the better merchandising choice.
Future articles in this series will analyze weight scaling versus stick scaling of yellow-poplar and other Appalachian Hardwoods for the purposes of sawing the logs into board and cant products.

1 Hassler, C.C., J.R. Thompson, and J. F. McNeel. 2021. Hardwood Log Grading in the United States—Part III. An Assessment of the Current Status of Log Grading in the Hardwood Industry. Forest Products Journal 71(2): 133-143.