Pine log business returns to Port Allen docks

PORT ALLEN, La. (AP) — Pine logs are rolling onto ocean-going vessels at Port Allen again.
Amite-based Ralph Stewart Logging LLC this month loaded 48,055 metric tons of Louisiana and Mississippi logs into the Marouli, a 623-foot-long, Panamanian-flagged vessel.
Port of Greater Baton Rouge executive director Jay Hardman told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1tgBx79) the ship was bound for China.
The cargo was valued at more than $2.5 million, according to an LSU forest economist.
While such shipments were common in the 1960s, Hardman said it had been more than a decade since a significant load of logs left the port.
"I think the timber producers are excited about this," Hardman said. "It's been a good project. Ralph Stewart has brought in a lot of Louisiana timber and some from Mississippi."
Stewart said he is a third-generation logger with more than 25 years in the business before becoming an exporter.
"I knew the (overseas) demand was there," Stewart said. "I've been dealing with this (export plan) for four years."
"China is in the lead now," Stewart said. "They're buying the most."
He said Chinese buyers believe in the durability and hardiness of southern pine.
Stewart said his company expects to be able to supply sufficient logs for about eight vessel loads annually over the next three years. During that span, he can gauge whether demand is increasing sufficiently to justify expansion.
Stewart said his logging crews continue to fill orders for pulp wood needed by domestic paper companies. He also cuts hardwood for U.S. furniture companies.
The price for Louisiana pine logs this year was about $30 per ton, according to the LSU AgCenter. That was about $4 more than the average for other Southern states.
LSU forest economist Shaun Tanger said the numbers translate into payment of more than $1.59 million to landowners for logs.
The prices, however, do not reflect the additional cost of fumigating logs to eliminate possible pests before export, Tanger said. They also do not reflect marine shipping costs or any possible premium Chinese buyers may have agreed to pay a company such as Stewart's.
"That is a tremendous amount of wood," Tanger said. "That increase in the Chinese market, it's good to see that we're getting in on it."
Stewart invested heavily in his new export business.
His logging company paid $1.75 million about five months ago for the old Louisiana Scrap Metal yard and warehouse on 12 acres in West Baton Rouge Parish, a staging point for transporting logs to the port.

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