The pandemic delivered an unexpected boon to the lumber industry. Hunkered-down homeowners remodeled en masse and low mortgage rates drove demand for suburban housing. Lumber supplies tightened up and prices smashed records.
"You must be making a lot of money," an Ace Hardware store manager told timber grower Joe Hopkins, whose family business has about 70,000 acres of slash pine near the Okefenokee Swamp.
"I'm not making anything," Mr. Hopkins replied.
Timber growers across the U.S. South, where much of the nation's logs are harvested, have gained nothing from the run-up in prices for finished lumber. It is the region's sawmills, including many that have been bought up by Canadian firms, that are harvesting the profits.
Sawmills are running as close to capacity as pandemic precautions will allow and are unable to keep up with lumber demand. The problem for timber growers is that so many trees have been planted between the Carolinas and Texas that mills are paying the lowest prices in decades for logs.