Cherry supply is up, but demand is down

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Time will tell as to whether the industry will embrace the cherry comeback, as one hardwood supplier put it. The ready availability of the rich red-hued species is not translating to sales that would normally be expected.

Louis Irion of Irion Lumber in Wellsboro, Pa., says quality cherry (Prunus serotina) logs that weren’t available years ago are plentiful and selling at a modest cost. It puzzles him as to why they’re not selling as fast as other leading hardwoods these days.

“The quality is great, but there’s just not a demand for it. Cherry is such a beautiful wood and it’s actually selling for the same price as soft maple now, which is unheard of. No one in the lumber business can understand it. Walnut and white oak are in vogue, but cherry, no,” Irion says.

Irion, like others in his business, knows how difficult it was to find cherry logs a decade ago because they were being exported in containers by the thousands overseas.

“The quality has really improved now that the logs are no longer being exported at the rate they were. Ten years ago it was a sellers’ market and you had to take what was available. Now it’s a buyers’ market where logs are sawn locally and they are nice and clear with no sapwood. We are sawing 25” to 27” wide boards that are perfectly clear that you can only dream about in walnut.”

“Cherry, which was a staple of the furniture market for years, has really taken a back seat to North American white oak and North American black walnut,” says Greg Engle of Certainly Wood, a veneer supplier in East Aurora, N.Y. He recently returned from Europe and regularly hears about export trends in the hardwood market.

“China was the biggest consumer of North American cherry and, from what I’m hearing, when China stops going after something, for example cherry, everyone else takes a big slowdown here in the industry,” Engle says.

Engle says mills are simply not producing as much cherry as they were five or 10 years ago.

“Last week we purchased some extremely nice 1/16” thick sliced cherry which, to me, was unbelievable to find this grade at that thickness. Normal veneers today are being sliced at a thickness of .5 mm and this was actually 1.5mm. We see a demand for thicker grade cherry,” Engle adds.

Clint Dillon of the Steve Wall Lumber Co. in Mayodan, N.C., says his cherry sales are holding steady.

“Cherry’s in our top-five sellers year after year. We run deals where we sell log run cherry in a 100 bf special that hasn’t been graded and it sells really well,” Dillon says.

“We still get calls about it on a daily basis. We deal with a lot of the North Carolina cherry which is a richer red than northern cherry.” 

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue.

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