Special Feature  

High-End Material For A High-End Industry

by World Hardwoods

There is nothing new about American hardwood – at least as a furniture material; for American furniture makers have been using oaks, maples, walnut and cherry for centuries. But there are some new considerations for American hardwoods in Asia these days, especially in its modern and growing furniture industry. After many years of exports to Europe, Mexico and elsewhere, only recently has Asia become the majority importer accounting for over half of all graded (high-end) American hardwood lumber exported.

As a high-end material there is little doubt about American hardwoods; for many species are now used universally by top designers and makers in residential, leisure and institutional furniture around the world. In terms of value for money, the huge growth of consumption speaks for itself. In terms of sustainability there is also no doubt and now new tools have been introduced to provide accurate data about net increase of individual species, nationally and state by state to satisfy the increasingly strict import regulations of major markets. In terms of the quality of American hardwoods there is no finer finish than can be achieved with maple, walnut and cherry – and American oak provides strong, stable and environmentally safe material. For manufacturers the globally accepted NHLA Grading Rules provide consistency of material supply second to none.

What has clearly changed is the increasing availability of American hardwoods in Asia as U.S. exporters have become very active suppliers through their own efforts and that of the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) at many promotional events throughout the region. This special feature is intended to provide current data and information on American hardwoods for Asia’s furniture industries whether destined for domestic or export markets.

The US Hardwood Industry is Ready to Supply the Long-Term Needs of Asia’s Wood Processing Industries with Legal, Sustainable Timber.

by Michael Snow, Executive Director, AHEC

Mike Snow at Interzum
Peggy Yu, Mike Snow & Tripp Pryor, AHEC at Interzum
The Asia-Pacific region is home the world’s largest and fastestgrowing furniture and wood-products manufacturing industries, employing tens of thousands of workers and adding billions of Dollars to local economies. Much of that production is dependent on a stable supply of high-quality imported timber. The United States hardwood industry is the world’s largest producer and exporter of sustainable hardwoods, representing nearly one-quarter of global trade. Backed by a large, diverse and rapidly expanding natural forest resource, the US industry is well-placed to continue to supply even higher volumes of legal timber well into the future without jeopardizing the long-term health and sustainability of the forest.

Despite the unprecedented growth in U.S. hardwood exports over the past several years, the volume of hardwood standing in U.S. forests has more than doubled from 5.2 billion m3 to 11.4 billion m3 between 1952 and 2015. Due to very low levels of hardwood forest utilization, projections of U.S. hardwood supply indicate that harvests could rise from current levels of less than 100 million m3 to in excess of 250 million m3 within the next 40 years without threatening long term sustainability. Analysis of hardwood growth and removals indicates strong potential to significantly increase supply of most American hardwood species, with particularly strong potential in soft maple, tulipwood, red oak, white oak, hickory, and hard maple.

Independent research has also shown that in addition to its long-term sustainability, the U.S. hardwood resource is at a “negligible risk” for illegal harvesting. This is a very important consideration for Asian exporters of finished wood products, as major importing markets have implemented legislation--such as the Lacey Act in the USA, the EU Timber Regulation, and the Australian Illegal Logging Act--to keep furniture and other wood products made with illegal timber out of the marketplace.

Behind the Numbers – U.S. Hardwood Exports to Asia

by Tripp Pryor, International Program Manager, American Hardwood Export Council

Washington, DC – Take a long look at any price, volume, or manufacturing statistic for American hardwood products over the last ten years and you’ll come to a simple conclusion: the global demand for U.S. wood drives the entire industry.

fig.2 Value and Quantity figures for Lumber Exports

In 1999 nearly 30 million cubic meters of hardwoods came through Eastern U.S. sawmills. After the 2008 financial crisis, production was under 15 million m3. By finding second legs in international markets, U.S. sawmills, lumber mills, veneer and flooring producers have been able to maintain consistent production and begun to grow back to near pre-crisis levels. Today, just over 22.5 million m3 are produced in the Eastern U.S. and over half of all upper grade lumber is now being exported.

Of course, much of this growth has occurred in China, which now accounts for well over 50% of all U.S. hardwood lumber being exported. Due to its massive size economically it comes as no surprise that China is the largest export market for the USA and many would be able to guess that Canada is the second largest. But a rather recent development is the rapid growth in South East Asia. Vietnam now purchases and consumes more American hardwood than Mexico which is another major furniture manufacturing country. In early 2017, China and Vietnam combined account for 67% of all hardwood lumber exports (figure 1). Last year, China set an export record: over $1.21 billion of hardwood lumber alone was purchased and delivered from the United States (figure 2).

Fortunately, Asia is not only our largest market region, but is also one of the most diversified end users of U.S. hardwoods. These markets prefer a healthy species mix including red oak, ash, cherry, white oak, yellow poplar (tulipwood) and walnut, but were also the world’s largest consumer of western red alder. Even more, export totals are growing every year.

The Southeast Asian hardwood market, like the Chinese market, is driven by the local furniture manufacturing industry. One important difference, however, is the rate at which finished furniture is exported back to the United States, Europe, or other high-end markets. Though China is the world’s largest exporter of wooden furniture, the country only exports around 25% of total production – meaning the American wood it now consumes is a reflection of local tastes. SE Asian countries (and Vietnam in particular) frequently export up to 90% of total wood furniture production. Therefore, these markets are more easily influenced by trends abroad, and as such have a very high percentage of tulipwood (yellow poplar), white oak, and walnut.

The American Hardwood Export Council remains committed to growing the profile and market share of US hardwoods around the world from our offices in Hong Kong, Osaka, Singapore, London, Mexico City, and headquarters in Washington DC. 2017 is shaping up to be a very exciting time in the industry and we look forward to supporting you through trade shows, design projects, events, market reports, and honest advice.

SE Asia Species Mix

China Species Mix
Early report – Jan-Feb 2017 data for Greater China/SE Asia

New Tool to Assist Due Diligence

by Rupert Oliver

Easy to use online maps to track the sustainability of American hardwood trees, species by species and county by county, have recently been launched by AHEC.

These interactive maps provide transparent and verified data on the sustainable hardwood resources of the USA, state by state and county by county for traders, manufacturers and consumers. A series of online maps forming a key component of the new americanhardwood.org website and using data from the U.S. Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) program now gives new insights into the sustainability of American hardwood forest resources.

The FIA program is one of the longest running, most comprehensive and scientifically rigorous forest inventory programmes in the world. It dates back to 1928 when the McSweeney-McNary Forest Research Act initiated the first forest inventories in the United States. In 1974 the Federal Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA) required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prepare Renewable Resources Assessment every 10 years. In 1998 the U.S. Farm Bill enhanced the FIA programme with annual updates at state level based on measurement of a proportion of plots, to produce a national report every 5 years.

FIA data derives from a combination of sources. Satellite remote sensing is used to measure area, location and main forest attributes at increasingly high levels of resolution. More than 125,000 forest sample plots across the USA provide detailed information on forest type, site attributes, tree species, tree size, and tree health. Questionnaire surveys of landowner plans, values, and intentions are made as well as a survey of wood processing facilities to track commercial timber production. Utilization studies of logging sites to record how much wood is actually removed during harvest are also carried out.

FIA data shows that between 1951 and 2011 the volume of U.S. hardwood growing stock increased from 5.2 billion m3 to 12.0 billion m3, a gain of over 130%. This trend occurred because hardwood growth was well in excess of harvest volume throughout the sixty-year period. FIA data also shows that U.S hardwood forest area increased at a rate of 400,000 hectares per year between 2007 and 2012, adding an area the size of a football pitch every minute during this period.

The graph shows the long term net growth of hardwoods, with an area increasing from 99 million ha in 1953 to 111 million ha in 2012, adding an area the size of a football pitch every minute, rising at a rate of 40,000 ha per year or in total an area equal to France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany combined. Removals have been reducing since 1996.

The online interactive maps allow users to visualize U.S. hardwood forest resource information from a bird’s-eye perspective to reveal underlying spatial patterns. The most recent FIA data on the volume of live trees, growth and harvest is provided for 22 hardwood species which together account for over 96% of all hardwood standing volume in the United States. Through a simple and intuitive interface, users can analyse the distribution of hardwood volume, growth and removals at national level, or drill down to state and county level.

Success with Sapwood

by World Hardwoods

Sapwood in quality hardwoods has always invoked discussion. In some markets, such as Germany and Japan, the presence of sapwood used to be almost completely unacceptable to furniture makers. But AHEC has always promoted sapwood as a design feature – and the NHLA Grading Rules do not classify sapwood as a defect; as sapwood is not a defect but is a natural characteristic. Many American hardwood species, such as basswood, maple and aspen exhibit little or no difference between heartwood and sapwood, but others such as cherry, walnut and oak do. In today’s environmentally sensitive markets sapwood should be acceptable for extending the log yield thus reducing waste. At the March 2017 furniture shows in Southeast Asia several companies were spotted with designs making a success of sapwood.

Photo 1: Regent Furniture Export Consortium, Malaysia, OEKO Brand featuring American walnut heart and sap wood
Photo 2: Step Furniture Manufacturer Sdn Bhd, Malaysia has successfully introduced American tulipwood sapwood into its range.

Photo 3: Deep Furniture Sdn Bhd, Malaysia, won ‘Best Product Design’ in the Dining Category at the EFE show in KL in March for this ‘sappy’ table set

WWW - or the World Wants Walnut

Fashion in hardwood for furniture and interiors, often going in cycles, is well known. Cherry, maple, ash, mahogany and rosewood are all good examples of high value species that have come and gone in popularity over the years; but there are a few that stay the distance. Several species have endured long term in popularity. Now we are seeing walnut join that elite group.

Photo 1: Regent Furniture Export Consortium, Malaysia, OEKO Brand featuring American walnut heart and sap wood

Oak is one of those species that has remained popular throughout history. It is seen as traditional, ecclesiastical and associated with academia and wealth, but also contemporary. Oak has stayed fashionable throughout time especially in western markets. Teak is another, particularly in eastern countries, for its durability and also associated with wealth. Walnut by contrast has come and gone in fashion over the years although it has never completely disappeared in popularity, as cherry did a decade ago. So what is the driver of walnut these days that suggests its current popularity will continue long term? The answer is complex.

First let’s define walnut. The main source of walnut in volume is in the USA where American black walnut (Juglans nigra) is exclusively native and grows in large volumes across the States from the east coast to Texas. The so called European walnut (Juglans regia) was originally native to a stretch from Kashmir to Turkey until introduced by the Romans to Italy and France as well as other European countries. The two species are different – in colour and grain - and whereas American black walnut is naturally regenerated in forests and planted a little, European walnut was mainly planted. Then there are other species such as African and Rhodesian walnut, so called for marketing.

Availability is a main driver. Limited supply and unquenchable demand in recent years has driven prices high, without the withdrawal of demand that normally follows. Take the case of cherry, for which prices peaked then halved when markets rebelled; but not so with walnut. Then there is China, where walnut is valued aesthetically along with many local similar hardwoods and Chinese buyers have discovered the ‘Well of Black Gold’ in American forests. Ease of travel and communications has accelerated the Chinese market for American walnut that appears insatiable. Then there is taste. Culturally, traditional furniture making and particularly chair making in China favoured dark wood species that are now rare. But not only China appreciates walnut. The March 2017 furniture shows in Southeast Asia all featured many collections of walnut furniture from Saigon to Singapore.

American Black Walnut bedroom at the WOW House in KL Malaysia
American walnut ‘Ottoman’ made by AA Corpn Vietnam for Joie de Vivre Hotel, Baltimore, MD

Part of Koda’s extensive range of American walnut furniture

And the world’s hotel designers and fit-out contractors love it. Last but not least, walnut is a truly beautiful species that finishes to a very fine surface. So – www - the World Wants Walnut!

Is walnut sustainable? That is an interesting and probably unanswerable question, for how high will the price go and how much is growing? Neither of those questions are easily answered. Whereas there is very accurate data now available for every commercial hardwood species in the USA, walnut is the exception. The forest inventory of walnut is well known and published, but walnut unusually also grows naturally on and around farms that are not inventoried. Brian Brookshire, Executive Director of the American Walnut Manufacturers Association points out “American walnut is one of the only species (maybe the only one) that the entire log is sawn as useable lumber, effectively stretching the utilization of the limited resource for uses such as furniture as compared to oak and other hardwoods where the center of the log is generally left as a block for industrial uses”. Furthermore new techniques of cutting ultra-thin veneer can also extend the resource, so it is hard to say how the resource balance will develop in the future.

European walnut supplies are relatively patchy and not well documented; but American walnut supplies are transparent and readily available through several channels. The American Hardwood Export Council has many members offering walnut. There is also the American Walnut Manufacturers Association whose 20 members specialise in supplying walnut – see www.walnutassociation.org