Article by Rich Donnell,
Editor-in-Chief

Does it seem like a lot has happened in the southern pine sawmill industry since the SFPA Expo was held June 5-7, 2013 in Atlanta? Well, if you attend the upcoming SFPA Expo June 10-12 in Atlanta, you might see a lot of the same faces as you saw in 2013, but their badges may indicate they now work for a Canadian corporation. And I’m talking about former owners as well as plant workers. (The former owners will probably be smiling.)

Say what?

When I walked out of the SFPA event and the Georgia World Congress Center in 2013, the rumors were flying about as fast as the Canadians were throwing their cash at Southern sawmillers.

About two weeks before that SFPA show, Keadle Lumber Enterprises of Thomaston, Ga. had sold to Canada’s Interfor for $45 million. And a few months earlier, Interfor had purchased Rayonier’s three sawmills in Georgia (Baxley, Swainsboro and Eatonton) for $80 million.

The rumors were well-founded. As the show was happening, Canada’s Canfor was purchasing three sawmills in Alabama (Mobile, Jackson and Fulton) from Scotch Gulf Lumber for $80 million.

Early the next year, in 2014, Interfor purchased Russia’s Ilim Timber’s two sawmills and reman plant in Georgia (Perry and Preston) for $130 million. I mention this because those were the Tolleson Lumber sawmills that had sold to Ilim in 2011.

In March 2014, Canada’s West Fraser purchased Travis Lumber of Mansfield, Ark., and followed that up in April with the purchase of Bibler Brothers Lumber in Russellville, Ark.

Then it was Canfor’s turn again, announcing its purchase of Beadles Lumber in Moultrie, Ga. and Balfour Lumber in Thomasville, Ga. in August 2014. Canfor struck again the next month, announcing its acquisition of Southern Lumber in Hermanville, Miss.

Okay, back to Interfor, which purchased four sawmills from Simpson Lumber for $95 million, including two sawmills in the South (Meldrim, Ga. and Georgetown, SC) as well as two in Washington. This deal became official in March.

That’s a dozen southern pine sawmills that have come under Canadian ownership since the last SFPA Expo. Given this track record, nobody will be surprised if another transaction comes down before or during the upcoming SFPA Expo.

A common thread throughout most of these mills when they were purchased is that they were good, efficient mills, some stronger than others technology-wise perhaps, but all very competitive. We should know. I believe Timber Processing editors have visited and written articles about all of them. And all were/are very conducive to a quick capital expenditure shot-in-the-arm to immediately take advantage of lumber markets. Some of those equipment projects are already happening, and no doubt the floor of the SFPA Expo will resonate with further project developments.