Did you know that Maryland grows high quality veneer logs?
Updated: May 23, 2022
Meet Craig Laird, Co-owner of Laird Logs
Laird Logs is four generations strong and still scaling and grading logs. The family affair began five decades ago, with Craig Laird’s father and grandfather starting out with strictly just black walnut trees and the excellent veneer they produce. As things progressed and markets improved, they started getting into poplar at the Lairds’ original log yard in Sudlersville.
Craig came on board with the family operation when he was in 10th grade, helping with the launch of the log yard in Darlington in Harford County. Once he was out of high school and things began to progress with oak and poplar products, The Laird family began to develop a strong export business out of Darlington being that they were closer to the port.
As a welcome sign of change, a lot of those export markets came back to the States and depended on the mills here. “We were a top producer at a veneer mill out of New Freedom, PA, for pretty close to 20 years, which we sent all our veneer logs to,” Laird says. When it comes to the logs, between their Sudlersville and Darlington sites, Laird Logs buys them within a 100-mile radius of either one.
“It’s probably 50% standing timber and 50% large gatewood logs,” explains Laird when referring to their sourcing. This means that half of the time Laird buys the stand of trees they aim to merchandise, and they contract out the job out to local loggers. The other half of the time they depend on loggers that know their specs to bring the wood in. Craig and his father are co-owners of this forestry product-based enterprise, with Craig as pretty much the head buyer for the business now, handling all of the sales and all of the logs that come in. He estimates about 12 million board feet of timber moves through both of their locations annually.
“What we want for veneer goes toward veneer mills, flooring grade logs go to flooring mills, sawlogs will go to pallet logs or regular construction-grade material, then you have mats, a little bit of scragg wood which is all pallet also,” says Craig. He notes that approximately 70% of their total volume is high-quality logs that go to furniture making or the housing market.
The trust between the Lairds and the loggers is something that you don’t find too often. Considering that when the loggers haul the logs to them, they don’t know exactly what they’re going to be paid until the logs are scaled and graded. This relationship is central to doing the good business that Laird Logs does. They account for every single log on that driver’s logging ticket, and that is certainly appreciated in that line of work in today’s day and age.
“Most of the loggers, we work really close with, they know what we can use, what we do want to use, and what we pay for. They have a really good understanding. We stay in really close contact with our loggers,” Craig adds. He’ll even go into a forest stand when loggers are initially looking at a job to further strengthen that line of communication and partnership on the ground.
Laird Logs is an even more impressive operation when you look at what is accomplished with the number of staff on board. “We’re doing with 6 guys what some people do with 16 guys. We’re very efficient for what we do, but the only way that you can compete in this market is to be efficient,” he says. Craig, his father, brother-in-law, and nephew keep it in the family, there’s been little change since it all started with Craig’s dad and granddad. “We’re all family and haven’t had much employee turnover. I think the newest employee has been with me 21 years now,” Craig notes.
He knows his future hopes for the business depend on sustainable, sound forest management going forward. This includes figuring out how to confront the range of diseases and pests impacting our native trees such as oak decline and emerald ash borer. “We went through this 100 years ago with the chestnut,” Laird adds. He sees so many unknowns and unanswered questions regarding diseases impacting oak, our dominant hardwood, and the anchor of so many forest ecosystems, he worries about what could be looming for other forestry product species such as poplar. Craig notes that landowners need to be educated about forest management. He says, “that once an oak has oak wilt or ash has been attacked by the Emerald Ash Borer the wood is only salvageable for 18 months, likely less. On top of that, there’s a lack of loggers in Central Maryland to address such forest health problems.” A dead forest is not a healthy forest.
Another challenge he sees to the future well-being of logging is a labor shortage, particularly truck drivers, which is a common theme across industries. Finding the right employees for Laird and the forestry products industry goes beyond just the hauling end of the business, with a pressing need for more local mills, loggers, and foresters across the board. “We need to promote some young loggers coming on. We need more local mills. We need more local foresters that care what the jobs look like,” says Laird.
To Craig Laird, ensuring the future of forests and managing our woodlands for regenerative, sustainable forestry products is a generational endeavor. He likes to see selective harvesting every 15-18 years.
Pictured above Craig and his father Jimmy Laird
Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS
Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL
LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
Maryland Economic Adjustment Strategy Summary Document
Maryland's Forests- Great for the Environment and the Economy
MFA Winter Newsletter
Laird Logs is four generations strong and still scaling and grading logs. The family affair began five decades ago, with Craig Laird’s father and grandfather starting out with strictly just black walnut trees and the excellent veneer they produce. As things progressed and markets improved, they started getting into poplar at the Lairds’ original log yard in Sudlersville.e.
Why Join MFA
MFA Executive Director- Beth Hill and Mr. Jimmy Laird talking timber during a site visit to their Darlington location last year.