The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 week ago

Timber values stagnant as lumber prices soar

Lumber prices are soaring in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, while landowners like Elliott Poole are facing stagnant timber values. (Alfa Farmers/Contributed)

Towering pines line roadways in Alabama, a state where construction is booming, and lumber prices are soaring. Meanwhile, timberland owners whose raw materials are in demand suffer stagnant timber values.

“We supply that wood, and the wood is there, but the price hasn’t gone up for us,” said Elliott Poole, who owns timberland in Sumter and Clarke Counties.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, Alabama sawtimber averaged $22.84 a ton. It rose just 69 cents in a year to $23.53. In nearly the same time, low interest rates fueled a building frenzy. From early 2020 to 2021, a thousand board feet of 2-by-4 framing lumber jumped from $370 to $1,155. Oriented strand board (OSB) increased from $255 to $795 per thousand square feet.

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Demand is still driving up lumber costs (and sticker shock) for construction companies and homeowners who undertook DIY-renovation projects during the pandemic. The increase comes even though mills that slowed down during pandemic-induced labor shortages are back in production.

Builders like Matt McIntyre of McIntyre Home Builders are feeling the effects; customers are, too.

McIntyre said plywood was $8 per sheet last fall. Prices have jumped to the mid-40s or higher. If he averages 220 sheets of plywood per 2,000-square-foot house, that’s an extra $8,000 dollars per house in plywood alone. The National Association of Home Builders reports lumber prices have added nearly $36,000 to the price of an average single-family home.

Experts say inflation could temper prices — but it’s not a given. (The April Consumer Price Index was up 4.2% from April 2020, the largest one-month jump since September 2008. The increase from March to April was 0.8%)

Rising end-product costs don’t correlate with Alabama’s abundant forestland, said Alabama Farmers Federation Forestry Division Director William Green. More than two-thirds of Alabama is covered in forests. That’s 23 million acres. Alabama landowners also plant more trees annually than are harvested.

Building more mills to process more timber sounds like a solution. But it’s not that simple, Green said.

“You don’t know what the market is going to look like in 18-plus months when the mill is finally built,” said Green, who also leads the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association (ATFA). “Will that investment pay off? A lot of family owned sawmills were bought out by larger companies during the last recession. It’s not easy to anticipate how a market will react over time.”

Time is essential in the Wood Basket. Lumber is sawn from pine logs, and it takes about 30 years of growth before pines are harvested. A lot can change in three decades, said Poole, an ATFA member.

For example, the Conservation Reserve Program started in 1985 to compensate landowners who planted trees on former cropland. The federal program was supposed to control erosion and stabilize commodity prices.

Thirty-plus years later, it’s also adding a glut of timber to the market.

Mills are choosy, too, said Poole. As mills upgrade technology, smaller, more uniform logs are processed, which means some pines have outgrown higher market values.

Poole doesn’t expect an answer immediately. But in a state where forestry has a $21 billion economic impact annually, he and other landowners need a breakthrough — soon.

“We’re not looking to take someone else’s profit,” Poole said. “But what is the solution?”

(Courtesy of the Alabama Farmers Federation)

Marlee Moore is Multimedia Content Director for the Alabama Farmers Federation.

2 years ago

High heat, minimal moisture hurt yields, bottom line

Talladega County farmer Whit Lovelady said he had to feed his cattle hay in July because pastureland wasn't producing enough grass in the dry weather. Rains greened up fields for a while, but he had to resume feeding hay again in September. (ALFA Farmers/Contributed)

Zero. Zip. Zilch.

That’s how much rain Terry Wyatt’s 500-acre cotton crop received in September.

“Cotton likes hot weather, but you have to have some rain,” said Wyatt, whose non-irrigated cropland in Harpersville was in the heart of Alabama’s most persistent drought based on the U.S. Drought Monitor. “We got in a pattern early. The heat index got extremely high at the end of May and stayed that way. We got intermittent showers in the summer and a 2-inch rain at the end of August. We didn’t have a drop the whole month of September.”

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Record-breaking heat and minimal moisture meant some cotton struggled to grow. In cotton that did take root, underdeveloped and knotty bolls became an issue. Wyatt said he expects to harvest around 600 pounds per acre, 400 pounds less than 2018.

The Oct. 3 Drought Monitor report showed 3.54% of Alabama in extreme drought, 11.99% severe drought and 35.36% moderate drought. The remainder was abnormally dry.

Wyatt’s story shares a common thread among Alabama growers, said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Carla Hornady.

“September and October are usually our driest months,” said Hornady, the Federation’s Cotton, Soybean and Wheat & Feed Grain divisions director. “Last year, farmers had a great growing season, but a wet harvest lowered yields. This year, yields will vary greatly. Some crops benefited from sporadic showers, but overwhelmingly, drought will lower yields again.”

In the Wiregrass, problems persisted for producers like Ed White. The Henry County farmer and Alabama Peanut Producers Association board member planted 900 acres of peanuts. Once prolonged heat and drought caused peanuts to separate from the shells, the clock was ticking to dig the legumes — which are packed in hard, parched earth.

“I can add about $15 an acre to production costs because of the added expense of using so many plow points (long blades that cut dirt from beneath peanuts),” said White, who changed plow points nearly every 5 acres. “But we can’t wait on a rain. The peanuts are finished growing, and we need to get them out of the ground as quickly as possible.”

White said his cotton fared better than peanuts, but the plants are shorter than normal.

“That can make picking cotton a challenge since machinery has to get so low to the ground,” said White.

In northeast Alabama, Clay Hastings and his father, Billy Gullatt, harvested soybeans in early October. Drought dealt a blow to the late-planted beans, Hastings said.

“We’re probably harvesting 50-60% of what we normally gather,” said Hastings, a Jackson County farmer who serves on the State Soybean Committee. “Our soybean yields this year are anywhere from 30-40 bushels per acre.”

They had a “decent corn crop,” but yields were below average, he said.

“Our corn average is usually about 175 bushels an acre, and it’s down to 150 or lower,” he said.

Hastings’ Scottsboro operation measured no precipitation in September. He said they plan to plant wheat following rain this fall.

While drought caused some farmers to delay planting winter vegetables, conditions urged cattle producers to take action.

On Whit Lovelady’s Talladega County farm, ponds dried up, and prime hayfields produced just half a bale an acre — a steep decline from the usual 3-bale average.

“I fed our first roll of hay the second week in July,” said Lovelady, who has 350 acres of hayfields in Alpine. “We caught a little rain shower or two, which spruced things up, and quit feeding. We started back the end of September.”

Feeding hay this early could cause a shortage this winter and affect farmers’ bottom line. Lovelady, who has 175 head of cattle, usually sells 400-500 rolls of hay. He said he will most likely keep all the hay for his own herd.

“I usually sell enough hay to help with feed costs, but I won’t be able to this year,” said Lovelady. “It won’t affect us right now, but it will in January or February when hay gets scarce.”

Drought conditions parched timber across the state, causing the Alabama Forestry Commission to issue a Fire Alert, urging delays in outdoor burning. Over 470 wildfires burned nearly 6,000 acres in September alone. That’s greater than the last three Septembers combined, including drought-ridden 2016.

Despite the challenges, farmers like White remain optimistic.

“This has been a bad year for us; there’s no question about it,” he said. “But it’s not the end of the world. Bad years will happen if you stay in farming long enough.”

For tips on managing drought, visit AlabamaDrought.com.

(Courtesy of the Alabama Farmers Federation)

Marlee Moore is Multimedia Content Director for the Alabama Farmers Federation.