(UF/IFAS) — Forest products contribute to a large and valuable industry for the state of Florida – altogether comprising the state’s largest agricultural commodity. This includes primary and secondary product industries that range from lumber to, you guessed it, toilet paper.
With stores struggling to maintain supply in toilet paper aisles and many Floridians now under stay-at-home orders, shoppers can rest assured: harvesting Florida’s forest products remains a necessary operation.
“Paper mills already typically operate 24/7, so there is little opportunity to increase overall production,” said Tim Martin, a University of Florida professor in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation (SFRC). “When demand for a particular product increases, mills will need to shift production and may produce fewer paper towels, for example.”
As non-essential services are put on pause throughout much of the state, forest products have been deemed a necessary agricultural commodity in the state of Florida. This means that working forests like the UF/IFAS Austin Cary Forest (ACF), located just northeast of the university’s Gainesville campus, are carrying on with their usual activities, including logging operations.
Scott Sager, ACF forester, says he is proud that the Forest will play a part in helping Floridians during this unprecedented time.
“While most think of the Forest in terms of the SFRC’s teaching and research programs, we are also a working forest, with active timber harvesting, as well as tree planting, prescribed burning, and other land management activities,” Sager said. “The revenue generated by logging pays staff salaries (including student employees), pays for fuel, replaces equipment and generally supports the operation of the Forest.”
While alternative sources for toilet paper exist, including hemp and bamboo, Martin says that traditional wood pulp remains the preferred choice for sustainability. Pulp used for paper products can come from a wide variety of tree species, including conifers like pines and hardwoods like sweetgum. The vast majority of Florida’s over 17 million acres of forested land are comprised of pines or a combination of pines and hardwoods.
“North American forest plantations use native species. In Florida, this is predominantly slash pine and loblolly pine,” Martin said. “While the structure is slightly different from a ‘natural’ forest, these planted forests provide more ecosystem services, like carbon storage and water and air purification, than almost any other land use.”