Markets around the globe continue to demand strong, high-quality lumber, and southern yellow pine (SYP) from the US, which suits a wide variety of applications, is benefiting as a result.

In 2018, US SYP exports posted a record volume of more than 2 million m3, a jump of 9% above the 2017 total and resulting in exports nearly doubling in the past five years.

During 2018, top destinations for SYP exports were China, with sales of £115m and the Dominican Republic, with sales of £53m.

Other areas, including South-east Asia, the Middle East and South America emerged as significant opportunities for SYP during 2018, with exports totalling nearly 71,000m3.

In South-east Asia, much work has been done to develop new markets for US softwood lumber, with strong gains being made in Vietnam and the Philippines. The resulting increased shipments to the region have partially offset lost sales to China.

EU markets have also increasingly become opportunities for SYP lumber producers.

The US will always be a niche player in the European market, with sales concentrated in sectors where low volume, high margin products can make an impact.

American softwood sales to the EU in 2018 were £20.7m, fractionally below the 2017 total. Leading importing countries were Italy (£4.6m), the UK (£3.8m) and Germany (£3m).

Treated wood sales were well ahead in 2018 at £8.8m (2017: £6m), whilst sales of softwood veneers were a healthy £12.1m. Sales of SYP decking also continue to appeal to the upper end of the market in the UK, with a market share of 10%.

In the past decade, there’s also been significant capital investment in sawmills to meet rising demand. Outcomes include quicker breakdown of saw logs to lumber.

Improvements along the entire production line, which incorporate latest manufacturing and drying technologies, are continually evolving. Dry kilns are key to SYP lumber’s quality. Dried to 19% or less moisture content, kiln-dried SYP accepts coatings and adhesives easier, making it well-suited for all appearance applications.

SYP remains comparable to other American softwood species used for structural applications. Its unmatched density provides superior fastener-holding ability and longterm durability for repeated usage.

Beyond residential construction, SYP lumber is finding increased uses in schools, churches, office buildings and retail stores.

Outside the perimeter of large cities, agricultural structures incorporate post-frame construction techniques, calling for both treated lumber and large dimension SYP to build barns, horse stables and equipment storage facilities.

SYP has a distinctive colour and grain, its sapwood ranging from white to yellowish/ gold and heartwood from a rich golden yellow to reddish-brown. Grades featuring more clear wood offer an unparalleled tone and appearance for carpentry, joinery, and cabinet making, while the more rustic grade provides designers the option to create warm and inviting surroundings.

Depending on final use, SYP’s diversity of grades presents opportunities for either structural or appearance applications.

Mass Timber

As the number of mass timber and tall wood buildings continues to increase worldwide, design and construction professionals are turning to softwood lumber products because of their versatility, performance, and aesthetic appeal. The industry connects with the building trades during appearances at key US trade fairs, sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture’s Softwood Lumber Board (SLB), an industry-backed programme promoting softwood lumber products to builders, remodellers, architects and engineers. After a successful inaugural five-year term, the SLB has transitioned into a second phase – branding all promotional efforts under the Think Wood name. During the first five-year period, SLB-funded initiatives created more than 13 million m3 of new demand and resulted in an incremental US$1.9bn of revenue.

In the Caribbean the US wood industry is also stepping up efforts to train construction professionals on building with wood in high wind zones – an important topic as the region rebuilds after hurricanes devastated many islands in recent years.

A sustainable resource

The forests of the southern US are among the best-managed worldwide and the most productive. More than 800 million trees are planted each year, assuring long-term sustainability and providing an abundant source of legally-harvested wood products.

The EU requires certified SYP shipments, and manufacturers are also responding by getting better acquainted with certification procedures.