Market reversal for poplar in France?

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Market reversal for poplar?  
 Falling poplar prices in 2023?  

Is the historical period just experienced by the poplar in France coming to an end? The question deserves to be asked because it seems that a trend reversal has been taking place since the beginning of the year. It must be said that poplar has benefited from an unprecedented price increase in recent years, which has encouraged owners to put many lots on the market (+45% additional volumes to sales by forest experts in 2022 compared to year 2019).

Over the past seven years, the increase in prices is impressive. White wood from 1 m3 to 1.5 m3, well pruned over 6 to 7 m and which sold for around 50 euros/m3 on the vine in 2015, were negotiated on the basis of 100 euros/m3 until the 3rd quarter of 2022. On a national average, raw produce marketed on the stalk for 30 euros/m3 ten years ago sold for 60 euros/m3 at the end of last year (see table below).

A record was even broken in June 2022 during an ONF sale by the Agence Pyrénées-Gascogne. A batch from the town of Estang (Gers) went for the astronomical price of €172/m3 on the vine (end diameter of the end 20 cm). This 4.70-hectare section, taken by Garnica, included 1,673 m3 (unit volume 1.76 m3) of cultivars I 45-51 pruned to 6.50 m. According to the ONF, during this exceptional auction, the average poplar sold was 110-120 per m3 standing.

This craze for poplar takes place in a general context where there is a shortage of wood while demand is progressing in a linear fashion. Poplar is no exception to this global trend and, in France, it is even accentuated by a structural phenomenon which unbalances the markets. The reality is that poplar growers have been burned by years of scarcity characterized by very low stumpage prices.

The result ? A serious demotivation to plant. According to the National Poplar Council (CNP), a total of 11,500 ha of poplars were planted in 1996. In 2014, the annual effort had dropped to 3,000 ha with however a slight improvement recently, since today the annual rate reaches 5,000 ha planted (2021 figures). Thus, in just over 20 years, some 41,600 ha of poplars have been erased from the French geography according to the CNP.

The consequence is mechanical: the harvest has dropped considerably, now standing at about 1,500,000 m3 against double at the end of the 1990s. The shortage has therefore set in and the CNP forecasts a deficit of 300,000 m3 to 650 000 m3 of poplar by 2025. And this shortage could last until the dawn of the 2030s.

The paradox comes from a certain number of manufacturers who have not hesitated recently to set up new factories in the heart of our production areas: Lacroix Emballage in Saône-et-Loire, the Thébault-Drouin association in Aube , the Spaniard Garnica in Troyes. Together, these 3 new plants could consume some 500,000 m3 annually, or the equivalent of 35% of our current total poplar harvest.

These structural reasons, together with the crazy post-covid recovery, are enough to explain the surge in poplar prices. But since the beginning of the year, it seems that the tariff fever has calmed down considerably. The economy is not looking good, inflation persists, turbulence is agitating finance. At home, the construction figures - authorizations and now housing starts - are down sharply while bank interest rates are only climbing.

Of course, this has an influence on poplar. In addition, a cyclical phenomenon further destabilizes the market. Indeed, since the end of 2022, Garnica, the leader in the sector in France, has practically no longer supplied its factory in Samazan (Lot-et-Garonne). This normally consumes 300,000 m3 of poplar. However, Garnica bought a lot during the first three quarters of 2022, the factory was running in 2 shifts per day. The information has not been formalized, but it is said that changes of shareholders within the group could have explained this overactivity.

However, since the last quarter of 2022, the factory has considerably reduced its production and no longer buys wood. “How much would the poplars that I sold for 120 euros/m3 in the spring of last year be worth today? asks a poplar grower from the Garonne. “75 euros? 80 euros? and again, provided that I find a buyer. If Garnica is not the only company in France to buy and process poplar, its importance (the equivalent of 25% of the national harvest), however has consequences on the state of the market . Poplar growers therefore expect prices to be revised downwards in the coming months.      

SINCE 2015, STRONG INCREASE IN POPLAR PRICES

   Price in euros/m3 on foot and in block

  Source: Robert Wood according to Experts Forestiers de France and Economic Observatory France Bois Forêt        

1 S. 2015

2 S. 2018

2 S. 2019

2 S. 2020

2 S. 2021

1 S. 2022

2 S. 2022

  Evolution

1 S. 2015/2 S. 2022

  Evolution 

2 S.2020/2 S. 2022

32.06

39.93

43.78

39.93

50.47

56.10

58.86

+83.6%

+47.4%

   In the 2nd semester of 2022 and compared to the previous semester:

-the average number of offers per lot decreases, i.e. 2.3 offers against 3.1

-the volumes sold during the session go from 87% to 75%

- the increase in prices is down, i.e. +4.9% half-yearly,

while prices had increased by 50% since the beginning of 2020

 

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