It is estimated that in 2020 over 779 million board feet of hardwood logs were harvested in Kentucky. This is a slight decline of 11 million board feet compared to 2019 and harvesting remains less than half the total timber volume growth in Kentucky. Slow markets, COVID issues, and uncertainty made 2020 another tough year for many logging operations and sawmills. Overall, statewide delivered log prices increased by approximately 2.5% for all grades and species combined. 

The main drivers for this overall trend was a slow stabilization of domestic and Asian export markets for many species. If markets continue to stabilize there are indicators of improving conditions andpricing trends into 2021. The table on this page shows the delivered prices for factory lumber logs of several commercially important species across Kentucky during 2020 and how those prices changed from the first half to the last half of the year.

Prices for medium quality sawlogs decreased 13% in 2020 due to decreased export demand. Further, secondary degrade caused by ambrosia beetles in trees killed by the emerald ash borer has reduced the abundance of lumber quality in standing timber which has reduced stumpage values.

Cherry logs increased in value across all log grades in 2020, with a 26% increase in high quality logs and 11% for medium quality. 

2020 showed improvement for hickory, as prices  increased 38% and 12% for high and medium quality logs, 

High quality hard maple (typically sugar maple) increased 32% and high quality soft maple (typically red maple) remained  stable in 2020. However, both experienced a decrease in low quality log pricing, 18% for hard maple and 20% for soft maple in 2020 compared to 2019.

Red oak finally experienced price increases with an uptick of 4% for high and medium quality logs and indications are that this trend will continue in 2020. However, this increase was
not seen in low quality logs that decreased 20% in 2020 and expectations for lower quality logs in 2021 is unclear.

Log price continues to remain strong due to the  multiple uses and demands in high and medium quality lumber logs. The demand for high quality stave logs for bourbon whiskey production has remained stable. Regional periods of dry weather coupled with relatively high prices resulted in ample supplies of white oak in 2019 and 2020. The importance of white oak in grade lumber markets increased pricing for high quality logs by 65%, and 
medium grade logs by 44%. However, similar to red oak, low quality white oak log pricing decreased by 10%.

While high quality logs were off by 13% from the start of 2020, the species is still commanding historically high prices continuing a sellers’ market for high quality walnut logs. As with many other species, low grade walnut logs decreased in value by 14% in 2020. 

Logs of all grades decreased in 2020 with high quality logs losing 5%, medium quality 13%, and low quality 17%. 


Stave Logs

Stave logs are generally high quality white oak logs that are used to make barrels for the distilling and wine industry. Competition for these logs remains high, as do prices. Some softening of prices has occurred due to prolonged dry spells allowing for increased harvesting and log inventories and European tariffs decreasing export of American bourbon, but generally the pricing trend is upward and is projected to remain so. The strong stave log market has also increased the overall value of all high and medium quality white oak logs. Statewide stave logs are averaging over $1.40/bdft. The market for white oak logs is expected to remain strong in 2021 indicating continued opportunities for landowners and loggers.



Railroad Tie Logs

Railroad tie logs remain another important timber product in Kentucky, helping many sawmills through fluctuating grade lumber markets in 2019 to 2020. Hardwood railroad tie log pricing softened slightly, but overall remained a healthy market over the last year and a half with statewide tie log prices remaining relatively stable with oak averaging a 3% decrease in value in 2020, and non-oak hardwood tie logs experiencing an 8% decrease. The statewide average for oak tie logs is $404/MBF, and for non-oak tie logs it is $347/MBF. However, a high degree of variability in pricing has been seen across regions and month to month. Purchasing has remained stable due to low inventories at tie treatment facilities and should continue into 2021 as normal maintenance and replacement of railway ties continues.  



Figure 6








Figure 7