Friday, March 05, 2010

The Sawmill Story

This article was taken from an unknown Des Moines Register. 

Iowa Sawmill Industry steady, but not growing

There will always be a sawmill industry in Iowa, but it is not growing.  Dennis Michel, a rural development forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said there are 70 sawmills operating in Iowa, based on a 1994 survey.  It showed that 60 of the mills are located east of Des Moines, with the bulk in the eastern one-third of the state.

One of the largest commercial mills is the Midwest Walnut Co. in Council Bluffs.  The mill makes gun-stock blanks (chunks of wood that are made into gun stocks) and lumber to be used for furniture.

Of the 70 mills, the majority are classified as small, producing 1 million board feet of lumber a year - compared with the larger mills that produce up to 5 million board feet a year and have 70 employees, Michel said.

Virgil Storm has what is called "an old farm sawmill" in Lucas County, which won't be replaced when they sell out or stop sawing lumber.

"The majority of our sawmills are second generation," said Michel.  "I can only think of three sawmills started from scratch.  It is very expensive to start a big mill.  I would compare it to starting out farming, almost cost-prohibitive."

"The ones that have grown and survived are bigger mills, where people have inherited the operation and shouldered debt to upgrade it.  I don't think Iowa ever had any more than 100 sawmills," Michel said.

"The state's first sawmill began production in about 1867 on the Yellow River in northeast Iowa.  Around the early 1900's.   Sawmills in Clinton  processed more lumber than any town west of the Mississippi River."

"Today, there are approximately 75 million board feet of saw logs cut annually in Iowa.  Because trees are a renewable resource, the annual production by Iowa sawmills represents only about 50 percent of the total tree growth that could be harvested each year in Iowa," Michel said.

Iowa lumber comes principally from trees in the hardwood species, mostly in the red oak and white oak families.  Others include walnut, hickory, elm, ash, hard maple, soft maple, basswood and cottonwood.

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