Non-traditional Forest Products

By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University,

Developed October 2013.


Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) have been called minor or secondary forest products.  Other terms may include and non-traditional, special or specialty non-wood forest products.  All of these terms underrate the importance of these profits and the potential for their profitability to be greater and more sustainable than that from traditional timber or pulp harvest.  Within the last several years, the development and marketing of these products by inventive landowners, has entered into public discussion, particularly with respect to the explore opportunities and constraints of increased harvesting of non-timber forest products on National Forest lands.  In many impoverished rural areas, creative individuals have happened on sustainable product-development alternatives to traditional “cutting or chipping” that have proven to be proven to be enjoyable and profitable small- to large-scale ventures.

NTFPs may include wood carvings, turnings and similar handicrafts like utensils and containers; bark mulch, wood chips, charcoal, floral products, cypress knees, burls and twig, branch and bough components for wreaths, interior-decoration and similar application. Unlike traditional solid wood products, NTFPs are usually marketed in many trade outlets beyond the local lumberyard.  For example, berries, fruit, nuts, aromatics and botanical supplements (oils, gums and nut extracts), mushrooms, syrup, natural-pigments, pine “straw,” cordage, bark products, hobby components and BBQ grill or fire-place fire-starters (for example, paraffin-soaked moose-dropping fire-starters) have unique markets and diverse marketing appeal.

Any venture in this area should include at least a simple feasibility study or business plan (guidelines are available on AgMRC) with an eye toward developing a marketing strategy and retail or distributor contacts before investing a lot of time or money into the venture.  Even “hunter-gatherer level” enterprises should involve record keeping that reflects time, fuel, licensing, insurance, any overhead costs and similar expenditures.


Hammett., A. L., and J. L. Chamberlain. Sustainable Use of Non-Traditional Forest Products: Alternative Forest-based Income Opportunities.  Center for Forest Products Marketing and Management, Department of Wood Science and Forest Products, 210 Cheatham Hall (0323), Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061

Margaret G. Thomas, MG. and D. R.  Schumann  Income Opportunities in Special Forest Products: Self-help Suggestions for Rural Entrepreneurs.  DIANE Publishing, 1993.  Describes special forest products that represent opportunities for rural entrepreneurs to supplement their incomes.  Includes: aromatics, berries & wild fruits, cones & seeds, forest botanicals, honey, mushrooms, nuts, syrup, & weaving & dying materials.  Each chapter describes market & competition considerations, distribution & packaging, equipment needs, & resource conservation considerations, & also presents a profile of a rural business marketing the products.  Products suitable for small or part-time operators are described.

Minnesota approach to non-traditional forest Products.

Natural Forest Products of Bhutan.  An interesting glimpse into what comes from a  forest on the other side of the Earth.

Nix, S., Non-Timber Products of the Forest:  Utilizing Secondary Forest Products for Additional Income.

Non-traditional forest products directory.  Renewable Resource Solutions, LLC and Glacierland Resource Conservation & Development Council, Inc. 

USDA National Agroforestry Center.  A source of information on several types of cropping systems you can use in conjunction with your trees.