AL timber farmers face significant losses from Hurricane Michael

Houston County suffers timberland losses after Hurricane Michael

GORDON, AL (WSFA) - Jeff McCallister had hoped to use money earned from cutting trees on his tree farm for retirement and to help the next generation of his family, but Hurricane Michael may have changed the plan that’s been in place for years.

“We’ve been grooming trees for the past 30 years to get to a point where we can retire. Now, we’re having to cut them prematurely because the damage they sustained in the storm. They’re getting only a fraction of the price of what we would have in a normal situation,” said McCallister, “A lot of people have 401Ks and plans, but timber is our retirement.”

McCallister, owner of J and J Farms in Gordon, is one of many timberland owners in Houston County whose farm was shown little mercy from Michael.

The Alabama Forestry Commission estimates over 42,000 acres were damaged in the storm. That translates to nearly $20 million lost just in Houston County.

McCallister says it could be months before he has a complete estimate for his timber loss because there are still areas of lumber he can’t get to from storm damage. He says of his 3,000 acres, about half sustained damage and within the damaged area there are pockets of total loss.

He estimates his farm got winds in the 110 mile per hour range. Trees that weren’t snapped were bent, stretching fibers and making the trees nearly worthless.

“Most of this timber would be cut for a board, like a 2X4 you build a home. When the fibers have been stretched and torn, it’s no longer eligible because it doesn’t meet the strength factor,” said McCallister. “We have some timber that they say there will be no market for. Absolutely none. Zero. They can’t even give it away.”

McCallister says he typically sold his lumber to use for building material and utility poles.

Although McCallister is feeling the brunt of his loss, he believes consumers will also feel a pinch. With less amount of quality wood, prices on things like paper or building supplies could increase.

“I have no doubt it would be a 25 percent increase on the wood people buy from Home Depot," said McCallister.

Although the price of wood fluctuates, right now an untreated 2X4 costs about $2.85. A 25 percent increase means the price could jump to a little over $3.50.

McCallister also lost 100 percent of his cotton in the storm. He says although he will get money from his peanut crop, it won’t be much.

“We’re really teeter-tottering on a fine line about if we’ll be able to stay in business. We’ll have to use good judgement and really make the absolute best decisions to come out of this,” said McCallister, “It’s a very sad moment for our area and other areas. All I can do is ask people to keep us in their prayers because there are so many people that are impacted from this storm.”

There is no insurance policy or claims that can be filed on timber loss. He is hoping and advocating for farmers to get some kind of disaster relief assistance from the state or federal government.

The AFC advises forest owners not delay in surveying their property if they are dealing with storm damaged timber, as drying timber on the ground creates fuel for wildfires and compromised timber is more susceptible to southern pine beetle attacks. A professional should also evaluate the situation before owners have their trees clear cut.

Owners with damage should call the AFC at 334-260-6260 or email hurricane.michael@forestry.alabama.gov.

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