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Vermont Firewood Dealers Can't Keep Up With Demand

It takes less than a minute for a log to be cut, split, dropped onto a conveyor belt and deposited into Jedediah Scott’s dump truck, ready for delivery.

Technology has caught up with the firewood business.

For dealers Scott’s size, the chainsaw and splitter are gone. They’ve been replaced by a machine that sections the log with a big, whirring circular saw and pushes the pieces through crisscrossed steel blades that split them into stove sized chunks. 

Normally Scott’s business, Blossom’s Firewood and Logging, sells 1,000 cords of wood.

"I'm just short of wood. I had to turn an awful lot of people down." - Firewood dealer Jedediah Scott

This year it will be more like 750. Not because there isn’t demand; Scott figures he could sell twice as much firewood if he could get the logs.

“I’m just short of wood,” he says. “I had to turn an awful lot of people down.”

Scott says  it’s getting harder for him to buy enough firewood logs.  

Not only is there more demand from homeowners,  there’s an increasing market for hardwood used for heating in big woodchip boilers.

“There’s a lot more demand for the product, the firewood log, these days for school wood, Middlebury College, Norwich University, the city of Montpelier this winter,” says Scott.

Scott is not only turning away any new customers – he’s had to drop old customers who live further than 15 miles from his base in Bethel. He’s not alone.

“Is demand more than supply? Yes, I think so,” says Paul Frederick, wood utilization forester with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

Frederick says there are a number of causes for the firewood shortage, and while demand for wood chips by large institutional users may be a factor is some areas, overall, as the accompanying chart shows, it accounts for only a small percentage of total fuel wood consumption.

Credit Vermont Dept. of Forests, Parks & Recreation

Frederick says the most significant contributor to the supply shortage is the weather late last winter. The cold weather, which seemed to go on and on, outlasted many woodpiles and exhausted the stockpiles of wood dealers.  

“As a result, the dealers that had any dry wood available sold out this spring,” says Frederick. “In trying to catch up, their customers are ordering more wood so they don’t run out again. The combination of those two things is really what’s driving the demand.”

The latest Vermont Department of Public Service Fuel Price Report pegs the average price of a cord of wood at $227.14.  Frederick says he hasn’t seen a spike in prices as a result of the supply shortage.

"As a result [of last winter], the dealers that had any dry wood available sold out this spring. In trying to catch up, their customers are ordering more wood so they don't run out again. The combination of those two things is really what's driving the demand." - Paul Frederick, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation

Firewood production is a part of the economy that’s hard for the state to track. There are larger dealers like Jed Scott’s but Frederick says most firewood businesses are one guy and a chain saw.

Frederick says Scott is not alone in feeling there are too few loggers to meet demand. He hears it from sawmill operators, too. But like firewood sellers, logging businesses are often one-person self-employed operations that are also difficult to track.

Jed Scott believes there is a shortage of loggers and it will mean a tight firewood market no matter the weather.

For now, if you’re in the market for firewood, the advice is: Order early and don’t expect to find any seasoned wood.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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