QUALITY COUNTS Agroforester Toso Bozic says controlling moisture content is the most important factor in producing high-quality firewood
If you’re looking for a winter activity, a firewood business will not only generate some extra cash but create a healthier woodlot on your farm, says Toso Bozic.
But good marketing is key, says Bozic, bioenergy specialist and agroforester with Alberta Agriculture.
While there’s a growing demand for firewood, particularly from acreage owners, it’s important to find ways to stand out from your competitors, he says.
The best way is to offer top quality, and Bozic says that’s largely determined by the moisture content, rather than the type of wood.
“A pound of wood will produce the same amount of heat no matter what species it is,” says Bozic. “A cubic foot of air-dried white birch weighs about 16 kilograms, while a cubic foot of white spruce weighs about 11 kilograms. A larger volume of spruce is required to get the same weight and the same heating value as birch.”
Wood with a moisture content of about 20 per cent should burn well and safely, while firewood with higher moisture levels won’t combust properly and that leads to creosote buildup in chimneys. That said, denser, hotter-burning hardwood species such as birch are in higher demand and Bozic says it’s wise to sell what customers are looking for.
Service is another way to differentiate a firewood business. Offering delivery and guaranteeing quality will boost sales to homeowners, while stores will have specific needs when it comes to packaging and sizes.
Bozic also recommends investing in a good log splitter.
“There is a lot less labour involved, it is much more mechanized, and you are able to achieve much higher production,” he says.
Regular culling of distressed trees for firewood reduces insect infestations and the fire risk in a woodlot, and also encourages healthy tree growth. Bozic recommends using the first harvests to create trails, both for easier access for future woodcutting and to allow for more recreational use of the property.
In addition to their own woodlots, landowners can also obtain an annual harvesting permit from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development to harvest up to five tonnes of firewood. More than 7,000 such permits were issued last year.
As well, sawmills often have reject material for sale as low prices and the slash left from logging operations can also generate large volumes of firewood (often tops of trees less than four inches in diameter). The petroleum sector also often struggles to get rid of trees removed for road building and site clearances.