Long appreciated as a utility species ideal for projects intended to have a painted finish, Poplar has traditionally been a popular hardwood species available at bargain prices. However, with the Recession and a general movement toward thrift, good old supply-and-demand principles have come into play. With the increased demand for Poplar, the price of this commonly used species has climbed significantly.
Now, don’t get worried: Poplar is nowhere close to becoming an endangered species. In fact, quite the contrary is the case. Current replanting ratios required by the US Forestry Department ensure no problems. At the same time, even without a shortage, the cost of this plentiful species will probably continue to rise, making it much less economical of a choice for many applications than it once was.
To understand the economics behind the increased price of Poplar, you need to realize that the production of that species has always been a low price, high volume industry. As the height of the Recession triggered a stall on new construction, the demand for species like Poplar and Red Oak hit record lows. As a result, many mills specializing in those species simply could not remain in business. The decreased demand, in addition to fewer sawmills harvesting and producing Poplar lumber, contributed to national harvesting levels’ dropping from nearly 10 billion board feet to only 6 billion feet.
Despite a general optimism regarding the Recession’s end and rising amounts of new construction, production levels have remained low; the closed down mills which felt burned only a few years ago aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to stick their necks out once again, so the remaining mills producing Poplar continue to raise their prices — and understandably so. Of course, this kind of pricing situation is far from unique, particularly for utility species such as Red Oak or Poplar; it’s happened before, and it will probably happen again.
Over time, history will likely repeat itself, and the industry will come full circle, with more mills emerging, production increasing, and over-production causing decreased prices. Red Oak went through such a cycle in the latter decades of the 1900s. Due to massive overproduction, high inventories of Red Oak met with low demands, causing prices to drop significantly. As a result, current Red Oak prices are equivalent to those seen in the 1970s.
How long will the price of Poplar continue to rise? We’re not exactly sure. However, what goes up, must come down, and the entire process can be cause for general optimism regarding the national and even global economy. So when you shake your head at the price you’re paying for Poplar today, remind yourself that there’s a reason for it and even that dark cloud has a silver lining.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums. Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.
From the J. Gibson McIlvain blog
- Import plywood tariffs disappear
- Replace those dock boards with Ipe and save
- The long and winding road of African hardwood export
Image credits: Top by PHOTOERICK/Fotolia; Middle by Kirill Livshitskiy/Fotolia; Bottom by alexvav/Fotolia.