DL Poplar
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DL Poplar 3.0 Software

DL Poplar 3.0 is a very special purpose timber plantation investment analysis software program. We designed it to evaluate extremely intensive short-rotation timber culture. Although we designed it for poplars, it can be used as easily to evaluate Gmelina or Paulownia plantation investments.

We developed DL Poplar in response to many inquiries from western farmers. They were watching the rapidly increasing industrial conversion of high productivity irrigated crop lands into intensive super-poplar plantations. Their natural question was: "Should I convert some of my farm to this new niche crop?"  Two articles in the Capital Press (5/23/2003) showed how fast these various poplar clones grow. And they do grow fast.

The farmers we interviewed believed that fast growth equates to profitability. They wanted to jump on the super poplar band wagon. Unfortunately intensive timber plantation profitability is not automatic. There are vivid success stories, but there are also some real stinkers too. More than other timber investments we work with, super trees require optimal biological and market conditions. As a result these types of timber investments require closer financial scrutiny than traditional timber investments.

Intensive super-tree timber investments face lots of countervailing pressures that beg for analysis such as:

  1. Farmers must give up regular annual incomes earned with familiar technology for speculative long-run ventures that have high up-front costs.
  2. Intensive trees occupy high cost ag lands with high actual rents or even foregone rents, while native forests are usually found on really low cost land.
  3. It takes a whale of a lot of wood growth to compensate the wait for one of the timber market's lowest valued woods--even though each acre can produce a lot of it.
  4. Annual maintenance costs are high, particularly when regular irrigation is necessary to achieve the fastest growth.
  5. Poplar is subject to relatively higher disease, insect and animal damage than most timber investments.
  6. Ten-year crop cycles have higher interest carrying costs than annual crop cycles.
  7. It may be a long haul to only a few mills that specialize in poplar pulp or poplar lumber--transportation costs rapidly erode poplar net returns.
  8. Poplar and other super trees often have a short shelf life that require quick turn around and specialized handling.
  9. Management intensity implies costly specialized equipment that can affect smaller scale operations.
  10. Niche specialty wood markets are chancy and easily swamped. Tens of thousands of northwestern industrial poplar acres are maturing. That should drive down future poplar prices quickly, and that region already expects reduced whitewood log prices anyway due to increased thinnings from federal forests.

Farm hybrid poplar investments could pay, and some could pay handsomely, but each farmer's case is unique and should be analyzed closely. Farmers should be asking:

"Under what economic assumptions about costs, growth rates and future market conditions would returns from short-rotation intensive timber crops be superior to returns from the annual crops I am currently growing on the same land?"

DL Poplar is designed to analyze the financial components of that question. Like TreeCents, It is also an MS-Excel spreadsheet template with visual basic formatting and process controls that runs on any Excel version from 95 to newer. It has similar design logic as TreeCents, but is tailored to a much narrower and specialized set of timber investments. Although it has example yield functions for popular poplar (note: this is not a repeated word--look closer) clones, the math and entries can easily be applied to other short-rotation intensive timber investments such as Gmelina and Paulownia. However, users will need to enter their own wood yield projections.

Various TreeCents editions have much more flexibility and more refined tax modules for the average private forest owner and can also be adapted to intensive forestry investment analysis. The right software depends on your needs.

 At Forest Econ Inc. we are concerned that lack of financial analysis might cause farmers to unknowingly leap into low poplar returns and give timber investments a bad rap. To help out, we've lowered the price of single DL Poplar 3.0 orders to $29.95. We also have a package price that includes DL Poplar 3.0 with your copy of TreeCents for only $19.95 when they are ordered together.

See pricing and order information on the TreeCents orders pages.


Copyright 2003 Forest Econ Inc.
Last modified: 12/19/08