In addition to the environmental and legal factors contributing to the decreased supply of Ipe (see Part 1), two other market conditions are at play. Understanding the reasons behind these shifts in the Ipe market can help builders and contractors plan ahead and make knowledgeable recommendations to their customers.
Waning U.S. Support
Once upon a time, U.S. lumber suppliers were quite enthusiastic about South American saw mills — and they showed it with their financial support. The resulting subsidies prompted more sustainable logging practices as well as more efficient sawing, drying, and shipping practices. Of course, the companies doing the subsidizing benefited from the arrangement, receiving first choice of lumber harvested.
Once the mills began to catch onto the training they received, the benefit to U.S. companies dwindled, and their interest wasn’t far behind. As U.S. based funding sources dwindled, some South American saw mills have had to close, while other saw mills have gone a bit rogue, making Ipe quality inconsistent. In conjunction with the slide in quality, illegal logging and price gouging have been running rampant.
The Wild West scenario is quite unattractive to U.S. and European companies, which are increasingly abandoning the once sought-after species because of the unstable market.
Decreased Quality, Increased Price
For the past 3 years, Ipe prices have been on the rise; however, maintaining the same quality standards has become more and more difficult. In fact, the only reason J. Gibson McIlvain has been able to continue sourcing high-quality Ipe is because we have buyers working full time in Brazil to ensure our high standards are consistently met. Even still, the job of weeding out lower quality lumber is becoming difficult.
For those increasingly rare buyers who can overcome the (albeit incorrect) popular opinion that buying rainforest wood is bad for the rainforests, they understandably expect premium wood for the prices they are paying. When they end up feeling buyer’s remorse as a result of the lower quality wood, there is typically a domino effect on other would-be customers and buyers.
When the demand drops off, Ipe forests will eventually lose value. When the land they’re on is no longer making the landowners money, forests will be clear cut to accommodate other endeavors, such as Palm oil plantations or cattle ranches. Sadly, many people refuse to believe that buying tropical lumber is really the best way to protect the rainforests.
Strategies for the Future
Now that we’ve established the changes to the Ipe market and the reasons for those changes, we want to make a few reassurances and suggestions. First, know that we at J. Gibson McIlvain feel secure in our ability to continue to source high-quality South American Ipe, even in large, structural sizes.
At the same time, we are pleased to offer premium alternative species, such as Jatoba and Cumaru. While other alternatives may also emerge, both of those species boast excellent sustainability, strength, and stability.
While Ipe’s recent popularity may make its decreased availability seem like a blight on the decking industry, we see the changes as healthy for both forests and the lumber market, as a whole. Once you get used to the idea, we think you’ll agree.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums. Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.