Christine Cadigan, the senior director of the Family Forest Carbon Program with the American Forest Foundation, spoke at the Georgia Forestry Association’s Landowner Summit in December about positioning private lands and family lands as a solution to climate change challenges. She explained the partnership between the American Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy for small family landowners. This article is condensed and edited from Cadigan’s presentation.
As the future of work (and the workforce) continues to capture national headlines, the forestry industry is the tip of the spear — and the log trucking sector is feeling the biggest strain.
The challenge with labor availability and competition for labor is compounded in Georgia by log haulers facing the lowest legal haul weights in the South, some of the highest insurance rates and increasing costs for fuel and materials. As a result, the costs for hauling wood from the forest to the mill are continuing to increase.
“There’s a shortage of trucks and drivers, so it’s difficult to get the product to market right now,” said Paul F. Jannke, principal of Forest Economic Advisors LLC, a company that provides analysis and information on wood products. “The industry seems to be having a lot of issues transporting the product around. Even though we’ve seen a lot of mills start up, production has been basically flat for two years.”
Jannke pinpoints the decline of the industry starting around the 2008-2009 Great Recession, where housing dropped from more than two million to under 600,000 units, causing the demand for loggers and related products to also drastically decrease. As a result of what seemed to be a failing industry, many workers decided to exit. Meanwhile, equipment was decommissioned and sold off — until 2017, when demand started to rise again.
“When that demand came back, we didn’t have the logging capacity, hauling capacity and transportation capacity to get the logs to the mill and the finished products to the market,” Jannke said.
Drivers Leaving for Other Industries Despite the state of Georgia enjoying an oversupply of timber, the reality is that the logging sector of the forestry industry has been struggling for over a decade for survival.
Though 72% of goods in America are transported by truck, the trucking industry as a whole faces challenges that include high turnover rates, an aging workforce, long hours away from home, and time spent waiting — often unpaid — to load and unload at congested ports, warehouses and distribution centers.
“We’ve had a lot of drivers go to chip hauling. We’ve had a lot of drivers go to flatbed hauling, and a lot of drivers go to hauling chicken feed,” said Hugh Thompson, president and CEO of Pierce Timber Company, a wood procurement, logging and reforestation company based in Blackshear. “They’re just hauling poultry products from Surrency all the way up to Gainesville. They make one trip a day and get paid an extremely large amount of money.”
According to Arbor Custom Analytics LLC, a company that offers data and analytics consulting services to all size organizations in the forest products industry, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that logging truckers in the United States earn between $12.99 and $29.34 per hour, with a median wage of $19.44 per hour.
Among the top 25 industries with heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, the forestry and logging industry sits near the bottom at number 22. In addition, many truckers are also left with the responsibility of gas, insurance and maintenance costs, as out-of-pocket expenses.
While Georgia’s forestry industry continues to look for ways to fulfill its need to bring lumber to market for various products, the issue of the lack of truck drivers is now a national concern that is driving federal- and state-level policy solutions. At the local level, companies like Pierce Timber continue to look for ways to professionalize their industry and address increased wages and costs for shipping.
“We’ve got to get some things permanently in place to help our industry. We need to be able to offer competitive employee compensation packages that are appealing enough to encourage people to join the log hauling industry. That’s the one thing we’re lacking,” Thompson said.
“We have to get our freight rates up so we can offer benefits such as insurance and retirement to our drivers. The job needs to be seen as a desirable profession — a career with a future. We have to make it more than just a paycheck. It’s got to be a job where somebody can come to work and know they have the opportunity to earn a good living, one from which they can eventually retire. However, until we can get to a point where it’s a profitable business, and we can compete on a level with other industries in the state with how we handle freight, it’s not going to get any better.” ■
Martel Sharpe is a journalist with over a decade of experience. He is a former managing editor who also reported mostly on local and state topics that included politics, business, education and community issues.
Georgia Forestry Magazine is published by HL Strategy, an integrated marketing and communications firm focused on our nation's biggest challenges and opportunities. Learn more at hlstrategy.com