Wood Seminars Shed Light on Southern Pine Use in Jamaica

Did you know Southern Pine lumber, produced from timber grown in the Southern U.S., accounts for nearly all lumber shipments to the Caribbean, and a sizeable share of lumber consumed in the region is preservatively treated?

That’s why the Southern Forest Products Association presented two in-person seminars on the use of Southern Pine in Jamaica in December. SFPA consultants Kerlin Drake, president of Kerlin Drake Consulting; Jerry Hingle, president of International Trade Associates; and Lon Sibert, president of Renewable Resource Associates, provided updated information on the selection and use of Southern Pine from the United States, wood grades, choosing the correct treated wood, proper wood-frame construction practices, and other topics of interest at the two sessions in Kingston and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

The Caribbean and Southern Pine

The Caribbean is the highest-volume export market for the Southern Pine lumber industry. Exports to the region reached a record $236 million in 2018 because of the rebuilding after widespread hurricane damage that year. Shipments returned to normal levels in 2019-20 as rebuilding efforts were completed. Exports have since rebounded, reaching a record of $271.4 million in 2021. Shipments through November 2022 were down slightly but remain near record levels.

While the U.S. has a dominant share of these markets, it is facing competition from alternative building materials such as concrete and steel. There remains some misunderstanding of wood-frame construction practices and selecting the proper grades and sizes for the application. In such markets that are more accustomed to masonry construction, continuous efforts are needed to ensure the correct structural application of wood products, especially considering the threat of tropical weather and other frequent high wind events in the region.

Southern Pine Use in Jamaica

Jamaica is the sixth-largest export market for U.S. softwood lumber, valued at nearly $42 million in 2021. Exports in 2022 are on track to reach $39 million, a near record. Exports of preservatively treated lumber are significant given the country’s harsh tropical environment and widespread presence of termites. Wood is primarily used in concrete forming, interior joinery, and some construction applications, primarily roof purlins.

Exports to the region reached an all-time record in 2021 to $271.4 and are on track for near record levels in 2022.

The market has long been a mainstay for U.S. exporters, and the U.S. faces very little competition from alternative suppliers, such as Brazil, Chile, and Honduras. Like elsewhere in the Caribbean, the biggest barrier the U.S. industry faces in the market is competition from alternative building materials and mistrust of wood-frame construction in an area prone to hurricanes. Hence, the speakers’ emphasis on building practices for high wind events and earthquakes.

The Seminars: What the Consultants Learned

A total of 35 key contacts registered for the seminars; 20 participants for the event in Kingston and 15 participants for the event in Montego Bay. Rasheeda Hall-Hanson, USDA/FAS’s Agricultural Specialist posted in Kingston provided the welcome remarks at the events.

Participants indicated the trend of using concrete for roofing is now more widespread. They cited the significant rise in the price of lumber the past two years and the increased danger of hurricane damage as the main reasons for this shift. Most participants indicated they would prefer to use concrete for the roofs of their homes, as it is more durable and less prone to damage from natural disasters.

In Jamaica, houses made of 100% wood are not popular for many reasons. For one, the government subsidizes these types of homes for low-income families and are not seen as a desirable option for those looking to buy a home.  

Most of the lumber imported into Jamaica is used for concrete forming. The wood is used to create the forms that are used to shape and contain freshly poured concrete until it sets. While the cost of lumber is high, the importers noted it is essential for the construction of homes in Jamaica, as it is used in almost every step of the process. This is why lumber is still a major part of the building process in Jamaica, despite its high cost the past two years.

In addition to the use of lumber for concrete forming, upholstered furniture manufacturers in Jamaica use a significant amount of lumber to build the skeleton of household furniture. The rugged, yet lightweight nature of pine wood makes it an ideal choice for this purpose. It is also relatively inexpensive, making it a cost-effective material for furniture makers. Pine wood’s durability is another factor, as it ensures furniture built from pine wood can last for many years.

Lumber importers have been emphasizing the importance of using the right type of treatment for wood. Unfortunately, clients often do not want to pay for the right type of treatment and instead opt for treated pine that is not suitably treated for wood in contact with the ground. This is an especially common problem in Jamaica, where the climate and environment can be especially harsh on untreated wood.

The lumber industry, especially Southern Pine use, in Jamaica is heavily reliant on imports. Importers from Kingston and Montego Bay have reported problems with specifying the exact sizes of lumber the market needs. In addition, importers from both cities indicated they also have problems with specifying certain sizes that the market needs.

Lumber is one of the most widely used materials for kitchen cabinetry in many parts of the world, including Jamaica. However, in recent times, the use of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) for kitchen cabinetry has become increasingly popular and contributes to the reduction of lumber use in the same areas.

SFPA members: check out the full report in the members-only section by clicking here.