Harvesting, Sawing, and Marketing Coconut Tree Lumber

How can a Dominican Republic plantation owner make good use of 300,000 coconut trees that have reached the end of their useful life? March 28, 2012

My company is renovating a large plantation in the Dominican Republic. We will be cutting down ~300,000 old growth coconut trees and replanting with ~ 2 million cacao trees. We are interested in determining the value of the coconut trees. The wood is dense and quite beautiful when cut into boards. Can anyone help us calculate the board foot per tree and value?

If anyone could offer advice on:
- Setting up a portable saw mill (for example, we were looking at a Norwood MX34)
- How to sell the lumber
- Possible companies to partner with
I would be appreciative.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
The Dominican Repbulic protects their forest and is not one for large exports. The wood would have its best use in country. I have never seen a big demand for coconut wood or many things made from it. I do know over in Asia they use it like we do pine here. It is a pretty wood and clear and the outer part is harder than the inner part. In plantations they rotate the trees every 60 to 80 years. While there is a market for the logs, you should be making sure you can export them, but it does not seem like there is a high demand in the US since the bubble popped. You would best be sure about what the D.R. will let you do. Look at a satellite view of that island and you can see by the trees where the border is with Haiti. Haiti needs lots of lumber to rebuild if you can get into country.

From the original questioner:

The coconut trees were planted by my family and have now reached the end of their productive life. 300,000 coconut trees will now be rotated out to plant 2,000,000 cacao trees, a highly beneficial rain forest tree. All Dominican government permits are in order for our project.

From contributor E:
I like that plan - anything that increases the amount of chocolate in the world is a good thing. Good on ya!

From contributor B:
I've heard little of coconut wood myself. If you are going to do such a huge scale logging operation, it would seem you would want better info than what you may get from the internet. Why a portable mill? With 300k trees, why cut corners on the tooling to service them? The value of the wood will need to be determined by the time and costs you generate in cutting up and servicing the wood. With that type of volume there isn't an accurate way to determine its value until the trees are down and you see what you have. There are scales for determining board footage in a tree. Your logging professionals can give you better info.

From contributor A:
I have seen a few coconut trees in my travels. Just off hand, say there would be at least 200 bdft in each tree. That would be 60 million bdft of lumber. With the mill you are looking at, you will only need to cut about 10 trees a day. So in about 10 years you will have them all sawn up. I am not trying to be a smart butt, but just want you to realize the scope of what you are headed into.

The slabs can be made into charcoal and other waste used as mulch. I did a Google search and found a company in CA that is working with coconut wood and sales. Several companies over in Asia are selling it. There should be a market in country, but the price will be low, but a way to move product. Haiti would be a market and you might be able to get people in some of these earthquake relief deals to buy the lumber to assemble homes in the area effected by the disaster or one of the soon to be coming hurricanes.

Also you will have to look into kiln services as this is a hardwood and most uses will need drying and proper storage. General labor pool should not be a problem in country. I Googled but did not find any sawmills in the Dominican Republic, but am sure there are some there. While shipping may be higher, handling and taxes may be less to remove the logs from country and process in the US or somewhere else. I heard of some Indian ships that saw and dry onboard and deliver lumber to port.

From contributor R:
You might be able to sell the logs to someone like ecosmartinc.com.

From contributor W:
I think that coconut palm "trees" are actually a grass. It is not a hardwood like oak. A picture I found shows that it is a bundle of straws. I think past messages have noted it is hard to saw, as it is very abrasive.

From the original questioner:
Our development of the site is to take 7 years. We are looking into the portable mill as it is quite inexpensive and can match our initial development speed. We thought we could cut our teeth with this mill and then upgrade or add additional units in a year's time.

From contributor S:
Coconut that I picked up in Hawaii.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor T:
The wood sure looks pretty in pictures. I don't know anything about coconut trees other than I used to climb palm trees when I was a kid and get into trouble for going all the way to the top. The fire department had to get me down from a real tall one and I got grounded quite a while for that stunt.

But I think your plan of starting small instead of investing in a big circle mill or industrial sized double-cut band mill is a better idea than going full bore right off the bat. Because it's obvious you have much more work to do locating a market and figuring all the logistics than you do learning how to set up and use a band mill.

If you can't afford the 70K+ to set up a small scale milling operation (this loose estimate assumes you already have all the machinery to move the logs and the space to sticker the lumber) - if you don't have the out-of-pocket risk capital for even a trial operation - then you probably shouldn't try to market the lumber. Maybe just flip the logs to another mill already set up if you can find one that can sell the lumber themselves. Then focus your efforts on your cacao trees. I know chocolate is always popular in any economy, but I also know that more and more people are realizing the health benefits of extra virgin coconut oil. We eat it every day and love it. I can't imagine my diet without it now. I guess it obviously takes much longer to start getting a harvest from newly planted coconut palms than it does cacao trees.

Other considerations you need to make if you want to process the logs versus selling them as logs… How easy or hard is coconut lumber to dry? What is the percentage of loss with that species? Can it air dry enough to be marketable or does it need to be kiln dried ASAP? Does it need to air dry first but then also need to be finished off in the kiln? What bug issues does it have? Can they be made into timber and used for post and beam construction in Haiti and still meet code? Is the wood good for smoking meat, cooking with, and can any of the tree be used for making crafts that are sold to tourists?

I know those are probably not practical applications, I'm just using them as examples that you cannot overlook any possible uses for every single part of the tree right down to finding a use for the sawdust, because if you do this you'll have mountains of it. There's a lot of questions you have to answer before setting up even a small scale operation.

And I assume you've explored any possible government grants or zero-interest loans should you get to the point of needing to fund a large scale operation. Going into debt to process logs that you could otherwise flip would almost certainly be a bad idea because if you can market the processed lumber, so can a bigger mill already set up that you could sell the logs to and just be done with it.

From contributor R:
I also use lots of coconut oil for the health benefits. Back in the 1930s, a dentist named Dr. Weston Price traveled throughout the South Pacific, examining traditional diets and their effect on dental and overall health. He found that those eating diets high in coconut products were healthy and trim, despite the high fat concentration in their diet.

From contributor T:
We were already incorporating EVCO into our daily nutrition when we first read his landmark work Nutrition and Physical Degeneration several years ago, but it was even more affirmation about its wonderful health benefits.

I don't want to derail this thread but I can't help mention that all my doctors (my civilian MD, my endocrinologist, and my VA doctor ) told me I'd never be able to live without insulin, but I am almost off of it completely after years of diet and nutritional changes (and many hundreds of hours of research and experimenting), and I know for certain EVCO has played a role in my steady, yearly progress to some degree.

I've gone from an A1c of well over 13, which is certain limb-loss and premature death if you stay in that range very long, down to where my last one was of 7.2 - and all the while I've decreasedmy insulin intake from over 60 units a day at its peak, down to my current level of only 10 - 15 a day.

So if you have any coconuts still lying around, you might want to pencil a commercial sized blender into your future machinery purchases.