Non-traditional Forest Products

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

Developed October 2013.

Revised July 24th, 2017

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 products and the profitability potential. In some cases, greater and more sustainable than traditional timber or pulp harvest.
The development and marketing of these products by inventive landowners, as well as the opportunities and constraints of increased harvesting of many of these products on public lands, has appeared in the media and entered into public discussion. In many impoverished rural areas, creative individuals have pioneered sustainable product-development alternatives to traditional “cutting or chipping” that have resulted in enjoyable and profitable small- to large-scale ventures.
NTFP material may be processed and then used as specialty bark mulch, wood chips for compression-molded composites, or charcoal-type grilling or fuel products. In some applications, twigs and branches directly used by the floral and decorating industries; with cypress knees, and burls gong to decorative objects that may include carvings, turnings and similar handicrafts like utensils and containers; and boughs and vines become components for wreaths and similar products.
Unlike traditional solid-wood or LVL (laminated-veneer lumber) products sold at the local lumberyard or home-improvement center, NTFPs tend to be directly sold to end-users, or marketed to those outlets and demographic particularly suited to or interested in the product. For example, consider these products: maple syrup, berries, fruit, nuts, aromatics and botanical supplements (oils, gums and nut extracts), dried or fresh mushrooms, natural-pigments, pine “straw,” cordage, decorative birch-bark products, moss for model dioramas, BBQ grill or fire-place fire-starters (for example, paraffin-soaked moose-droppings).  A wildly diverse range of products, each with unique markets.
Any venture 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. Any production needs to consider time, all material costs, packaging, distribution and shipping expenses and similar considerations.


Training Manual for Applied Agroforestry Practices and Handbook for Agroforestry Planning and Design. The Center for Agroforestry; University of Missouri.  Includes schedules and links to meetings and training events.

NTFP Non-timber Forest Product Resources for Small Forestland Owners and Businesses.

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

Non-Timber Forest Products:Alternatives for Landowners
Chamberlain and Hammet; U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Service.

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.

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.

ThoughtCo. Lifelong Learning: Nontraditional Forestry An introductory primer on nontraditional forestry.

Working for Alternative Forest Products From University of Rhode Island’s Today’s Forest; Tomorrows legacy.

Medicinal Herbs and Non-Timber Forest Products - North Carolina State University Extension link page to various resources.