I have witnessed two product-related crises in the southern pine lumber industry during my nearly 30 years of writing for this magazine.
The first occurred in the mid 1980s, when southern pine lumber producers received a serious tongue-lashing over the quality of their lumber entering the retail and builders pipeline. I recall a meeting in Atlanta in the summer of 1985, hosted by Southern Forest Products Assn., when a six-member panel of builders, dealers and component fabricators spoke to SYP producers. They said things like:
- —southern pine lumber has more disadvantages than advantages
- —it’s not uniform, too much twist, wane and crook
- —as standards have dropped so has the quality
Heck, one of the panel members complained about pine shipments with cigarette butts, cola stains and marijuana inside a lumber package.
Only hours following that session, another panel discussion was held, this time with representatives from the American Lumber Standards Committee, Timber Products Inspection and Southern Pine Inspection Bureau. They basically said the mills should upgrade their quality control. And following that discussion, the SFPA board of directors approved a resolution that urged members to start customer contact programs, that called for increased checks by SYP grading agencies, that authorized the marketing committee to recommend changes to SPIB to meet specific product requirements, and that encouraged more meetings between SPIB, TPI and SFPA.
Much to the SYP industry’s credit, its pro-active approach to the quality issue helped the issue to go away. Now we have the second crisis: the SPIB proposal to reduce design values and strength ratings of SYP, perhaps by 30%, for 2 in. visually graded lumber (as opposed to mechanically graded lumber via MSR & MEL). (See article on page 6) Since this has come up, a few things have caught my attention: that SYP design values were last revised in 1991; that southern pine is the only lumber species that has been monitored on an annual basis since 1994; and that trends in the annual test data along with “anecdotal external information” prompted SPIB to conduct an enhanced testing program.
Another thing caught my attention, too: that while SPIB has not specifically studied why a change in SYP lumber occurred, the annual test data has suggested a possible shift in the timber resource mix as one of the variables.
Are we back to talking about “juvenile wood” here? It might be worth your while to Google up a study released in 2001 by the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, “Formation and Properties of Juvenile Wood in Southern Pines.” You can read the report to capture the real science involved and learn the true definition of juvenile wood, but in essence it stated that:
- —Fast-grown resource harvested in shorter age rotations will contain higher proportions of juvenile wood.
- —Juvenile wood will have a detrimental impact on allowable design stresses for visually graded lumber.
Nobody has absolutely stated yet that juvenile wood is involved in this possible shift in the timber resource mix, which may have led to the revised design values. But whatever the cause is must be pinpointed ASAP.