2009-01-01 / Local & State

Sawdust Shortage Affecting Pennsylvania Businesses

By Tim Hahn

MEADVILLE, Pa. (AP) - Animal exhibitors would be wise to pack their own bedding material for the Crawford County Fair in 2009.

The mounds of sawdust that fair officials have provided at no cost have been shrinking in recently, thanks to higher demand for a material once considered waste.

Compounding the problem this year was a slump at lumber businesses and forced some local sawmills to shut down. Less work means less sawdust - and higher prices for the sawdust that could be found.

As a result, the 2009 Crawford County Fair book will include a message to exhibitors informing them that bedding will be provided if available.

"So they bring some of their

own,'' Fair Board member Ken

Hyde said. .

It won't be an easy task, based on reports from other sawdust users and producers.

Ron Closky, a Cambridge Springs-area dairy farmer, said it has become more difficult for him to find a ready supply of sawdust for his herd of 130.

Closky said he had long relied on a supplier from Buffalo. But when the regular shipments stopped coming, he said he used straw that he bought in the fall.

Charles Alsdorf, an independent contractor who hauls sawdust from a Cochranton-area mill to local dairy and horse farmers, blames the situation on a variety of factors.

Much of the available sawdust is sold to companies that produce fuel for pellet stoves or use the sawdust to fire their heating systems, Alsdorf said.

The sawdust produced by Coastal Lumber Co. in Spartansburg, for example, is sold under a contract to a local company that uses it as boiler fuel, plant manager Gregory Welch said.

Weyerhaeuser Co. in Titusville uses some of the sawdust it produces at its dimension mill to power its lumber drying system at its concentration yard, and sells the rest to a pellet manufacturer in New York, operations manager Chuck Ellis said.

Lean times in the housing and furniture manufacturing industries have also reduced the amount of work at local mills, cutting the amount of available sawdust, Alsdorf said.

Thompson Lumber owner Norma Thompson, whose Linesville business sells its sawdust for $15 per four-yard bucket, said that while her wholesale business remains strong, she has seen a bunch of smaller mills that flooded the local market when times were good shut down in these tough economic times.

The sawdust situation isn't bad news for the lumber mills that are running. They are making more money from selling sawdust and other byproducts, including bark that is made into mulch, and wood scraps that are chipped up and used in the production of paper and fiberboard, said Chuck Henness, the owner of Thompson Maple Products in Corry.

"The truth is, they were never really castoffs. There has always been a market for this stuff,'' Henness said. "The prices have increased over the last couple of years just because the supply has decreased, and it's Economics 101.''

But it is bad for sawdust haulers like Alsdorf, who are finding it harder to grow their businesses with less to sell.

"I can only promise it to so many people, and that's where it gets tricky,'' he said. "The phone rings off the hook, and no one wants to hear, 'No, you can't get on the list.'''

It's also tough for users such as the Crawford County Fair, which spent $6,985.72 on sawdust - much of it purchased for $750 per 100-yard load - and shavings for the 2008 fair, up from $4,400 spent in 2007.

"I used to get about 16 or 17 semi loads for the fair. It's just impossible to get that now,'' Hyde said.

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