Indiana Hardwood Strategy

On February 5th in Indianapolis, Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch announced a new economic development strategy to grow the Indiana hardwoods industry. The Indiana Hardwood Strategy was commissioned by the Indiana Hardwood Lumberman’s Association, Indiana State Department of Agriculture and Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Forestry. It was completed by DJ Case & Associates of Mishawaka, Indiana in cooperation with Purdue Center for Regional Development, Purdue Extension and Dr. Satish Ukkusuri of Purdue.

Indiana’s resource base of 5 million acres of forest land, the vast majority, 84%, privately owned, supports a strong primary industry of sawmills and initial processers of timber and vibrant secondary industry that takes the work of those companies to a more final product. The hardwood industry in Indiana, including primary, secondary and tertiary or support industries, employs over 70,000 workers and pays $1.1 billion in state, local and federal taxes each year. The economic impact of the hardwood industry in the Hoosier state is over $10 billion annually.

Indiana is known for producing the highest quality walnut and white oak in the world. The state ranks first in the nation for the production of sliced hardwood veneer. The world capital for wood office furniture is in Dubois County around the town of Jasper, IN. The national capital for RV manufacture in Elkhart County, Indiana is also an important regional cluster for wood products. But the hardwood industry has an impact in every county of the state, leading to top national ranking for the production wood kitchen cabinets, manufactured homes, engineered wood products, pre-fabricated wood buildings and upholstered household furniture. Wood products in Indiana have the largest economic impact of any segment of agriculture in the state, more than all row crop agriculture put together including corn and soy beans for livestock and human use, vegetable, fruit and nut production which all combine to total $6.7 billion annually.  

The most important strategies outlined in the Indiana Hardwood Strategy are to foster the growth and expansion of existing hardwood businesses, increase Hoosier business-to-business connections to ensure that secondary manufacturers are aware of primary resources that may be available within the state and develop additional uses for hardwood products like thermal modification which enables tulip poplar, for example, to be used for siding and decking and other outdoor applications and hardwood cross-laminated timber (CLT). CLT is being used extensively in Europe and on the US west coast in building wood-based, high-rise buildings for structural and wall panel applications. Developed countries are beginning to understand the sustainable benefit to using renewable resources like wood as a raw material.

The Indiana Hardwood Strategy identified that these sustainable benefits of hardwood also needs to be promoted to Hoosier and US consumers at large. Consumers, it seems, are largely unaware of the sustainability of Indiana hardwoods and over the past 20 plus years have increasingly been choosing substitute products manufactured from petroleum or other fossil-based sources in place of hardwood. The decrease in domestic US consumption of hardwood grade lumber has led to an increasing reliance on export markets, especially China’s growing middle-class. But it is recognized that in general for landowners to receive the highest value for their standing timber, for the primary industry to receive the highest value for boards, staves, etc. diverse and strong markets need to be promoted both overseas and domestically.

To an important extent, Indiana’s 5 million acres of high quality forestland are dependent on strong markets that pay for their management and the ability to retain sun-loving species like oak, hickory, walnut and tulip poplar and provide some financial return. The Indiana Hardwood Strategy also recognized that supply can be improved with more direct engagement with private forest landowners and a communication strategy “to effectively communicate the benefits of healthy forest management to Indiana citizens, encouraging more active management on public and private lands.” Woodland Steward Readers may be aware that the high quality forests we have today are the result of the intensive land management in the past but many other current forestland owners may not be aware that without management we will see species and forest composition shifts that will be detrimental to existing wildlife and human uses.

Woodland Steward readers are encouraged to continue their informed forest management, and where they are financially able to, choose Indiana wood products for their business and personal use. Each of us can do what we can to promote the use of sustainable natural resources and make headway against an increasingly throw away culture. Let’s ask for real hardwood products made from Indiana grown materials and support the retention of our oak-hickory forests and Indiana hardwood industry workers in the process!  

More information about the Indiana Hardwood Strategy, including the full assessment report, is available on the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s webpage:

Chris Gonso is the Hardwoods Program Manager for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and can be reached at