When Danielle Pennel and Garnet Underwood sold their property at Stories Beach in Campbell River to become sheep farmers in Sayward, little did they know that rising lumber prices would disrupt their plans.
On the seven acres of land they bought in May, the Vancouver Island couple were planning to build a solar-powered off-grid ‘green’ farm by April 2021, where they could raise hair sheep.
With food-security on their agenda, they were looking at developing a sustainable model to add to the supply of B.C.’s locally-sourced meat and hair sheep – known for their meat – seemed like a suitable option.
The poultry and meat from heritage breeds – coming from a proven quality lineage, slow-growing and naturally mated – on their farm was to be supplied to an abattoir in Courtney.
But the farm, which was slotted to be complete within a year-and-a-half, is now stalled and set back by three-and-a-half years due to the “ridiculous price” of lumber.
“It has been a bigger challenge than I thought it was going to be,” said Pennel, who is still looking at different permutations to solve the costly lumber issue.
Ideally, they imagined the pandemic to be a good time to “hide away” on their farm and finish construction before the next growing season.
They brought an excavator, cleared land, logged and sold the alder trees and used the money towards some of the construction expenses.
“But right now we can’t afford to fence our field and become sheep farmers,” said Pennel.
All because lumber prices “just tripled” since they began building the barn.
Lumber prices in North America are at a record high since the pandemic began. The latest price as of Sept. 18, released by B.C. Forest Product Prices shows SPF (spruce, pine, fir) 2x4 lumber at a record level of $1,288 per thousand board feet. The prices have tripled since 2019 when the average annual was at $499.
A supply chain disruption due to constrained lumber supply and surging demand led to a very big price appreciation. The high lumber prices increased the average cost of building homes by $10,000 to $20,000.
Pennel and Underwood weighed numerous options, including speaking to local sawmills that would mill their logs for them in exchange for half.
“So I would end up losing half the wood, and plus I would have to pay for the trucks – about $150 an hour – making it an expensive option. It’s a Catch-22 situation.”
If prices don’t drop, the couple is also considering buying a portable lumber mill and logging trees from their property.
“But it will be a very labour intensive process considering it’s just the two of us.”
Pennel and Underwood were able to build the barn and fence almost three-quarters of an acre. They’ve put off building their house until lumber is more affordable. The couple is living in a trailer on their property.
“We’re going to wait six more months to see if the prices come down – if not we will have to apply for a farm loan,” said Pennel.
They were also in talks with a university in Nanaimo to welcome students from agricultural programs for co-operative education on their farm.
“We were looking forward to providing the students with the unique experience of working at a 100 per cent off-grid farm, said Penne.
“That’s going to be put on hold as well.”
Binny Paul is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with the Campbell River Mirror.