How the sharing economy can empower woodlot owners

Will Martin on May 25th, 2016 • 1 year ago
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Owning a family woodlot and trying to get good work done can feel pretty frustrating at times. It often seems like you’re left to make a choice between accepting work that doesn’t sit well and not doing anything at all.

There must be a better way. How can you as an individual landowner participate in forestry without having to compromise your values and interests?

We would suggest you actually look in the same place you go for a lot of other answers these days, the internet. Specifically, let’s look at web enabled technology that is driving something called “the sharing economy”.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories about how AirBnB is changing the travel business, or how Uber is changing the way people get around in big cities. These businesses are often described as a “sharing economy” because they are designed to make it easy for people with underused capacity, like a spare room or time driving their car, to connect to other people who need it.

Even though the family woodlot may seem pretty far away from businesses like AirBnB and Uber, there are some very useful things these tech trends can offer an otherwise traditional industry like forestry. Although in our own individual communities it may not feel like woodlots are all that important, 340 million acres of forest in North America are owned on small family properties. Managing that land well matters a lot.

What if a sharing economy platform could help solve some of the fundamental challenges in timber markets? Let’s look at how it could work.

The place to start is better information sharing. Landowners need access to the same level of information as the timber buyers have. It’s very hard to negotiate a fair deal if one side has all the information and the other just has to trust the terms being given to them. Helping woodlot owners understand management options on their land, the full value of their trees, harvest costs, and the potential impacts of different options is fundamental to making a choice that’s right for your land. We already know that social networks and web technology support incredibly powerful processes of collecting and distributing data. Using those processes in a shared web platform can similarly give you as a landowner access to tools and insights for your forest that used to only be available to professionals in the industry. See how you can get a customized inventory of your forest here.

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Next, there needs to be a more efficient timber market. In another post I go into a fair amount of depth exploring how private land timber markets work…or don’t, to be more precise (you can read it here). In that post I explain how private wood supply needs to be aggregated at a sufficiently large scale to correct some fundamental disfunctions that exist otherwise in the market. While this has been done in the past through landowner associations, organizing landowners has become increasingly difficult. Here again, technology enabled tools open up this problem in a powerful new way. Now landowners can participate purely as individuals on a web platform that virtually aggregates timber harvests. By doing so, landowners gain a fair market position and mills secure a more stable supply chain – no government regulation or politics required.

Finally, the operational efficiencies that are possible on large land holdings and within vertically integrated forestry companies need to become accessible to the distributed network of smaller players on private land. Efficiency is all about coordination, and good coordination requires being able to see all the pieces at play. That’s easy if you own all the pieces like the big companies do. In a distributed network of individuals, a web platform that connects landowners, loggers and mills offers the potential to similarly map all the pieces without having to control them directly. A shared platform with tools designed for each aspect of managing forests and timber sales can combine information from across the network. Over time this allow landowners, loggers, and mills to all be more successful in planning their own activity.

Overall, the potential of the sharing economy is very encouraging, and has already proven an ability to help some very broken industries. At WoodsCamp we believe in the potential enough that we are bringing these tools to forestry. Our technology is designed around the key functions of information sharing, market efficiency, and operational coordination in one platform for the shared benefit of landowners, loggers, and mills. It is a big undertaking, but we honestly believe that building a way for people to work together more effectively will be critical to the long term health of our forests and the communities that depend on them.

Let me know what you think? Can you see a future where forests are managed using the power of the internet? Would you add your property to a new forestry sharing economy? You can get a free assessment of what the opportunity would look like for you at Woodscamp today.

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Author: Will Martin

Will’s lifelong passion for the forest is evident in over 15 years of forestry work on family woodlots. In addition to co-founding WoodsCamp, will is also the Chairman of the Medway Community Forest Co-op, and President of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association.

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  • Lynn Atwood

    What do you know about carbon credits and how they can benefit the woodlot owner ?

    • Will Martin

      We are paying really close attention to various models for carbon credits on well managed family woodlots. There isn’t a way to sell carbon credits in Nova Scotia yet but we are working to ensure that the WoodsCamp platform can be used to support those opportunities when they become available.