A Comparison of Wisconsin and Minnesota Paper Products and Highlights from Wisconsin Paper, Containerboard, and Lumber Producer Tours

By Kristen Bergstrand, Utilization and Marketing Coordinator, Division of Forestry, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

Paper ads

Wood products manufacturing in the lake states consists primarily of pulp and paper producers and lumber manufactures. In Minnesota about 55 percent of the wood we consume in a year goes into paper products primarily printing and writing (office paper) and lightweight coated/uncoated paper (advertising inserts). For more than 50 years, Wisconsin has been the top paper producer in the United States by volume and diversity of paper products produced, creating 5.3 million tons of paper and 1.1 million tons of paper board annually.

According to Jeff Landin, president of the Wisconsin Paper Council, 83 percent of the paper made in Wisconsin is for tissue, packaging, and specialty grades, not printing and writing papers.

In recent years, states in the Midwest and the country have been hard hit in the paper industry with facilities closures as printing and writing paper sectors continue to find a balance with demand and global competition. Wisconsin and Minnesota have both seen drastic change. However in Wisconsin printing- and writing-grades of paper make up a small percentage of Wisconsin's total paper industry. In Minnesota, printing and writing paper grades make up a large percentage of the state's paper products. According to Jeff Landin, president of the Wisconsin Paper Council, 83 percent of the paper made in Wisconsin is for tissue, packaging, and specialty grades, not printing and writing papers. Examples of tissue, packaging, and specialty grade products include toilet paper, facial tissue, paper towels, and napkins, or food packaging such as microwave popcorn bags. These types of products are not at a high risk for technology or customers changing their demand because the products are consumer commodities and staples of everyday life.

Giving tours of production facilities is great way to tell the story of forest products manufacturing and engage the public, lawmakers or organizations. Through published articles highlighting why wood manufacturing is important to customers, state and regional economies, lawmakers, and local communities, tours were given at Catalyst Paper, Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), and Biewer Lumber Sawmill.

huge roll of paper


At Catalyst Paper in Biron, Wisconsin, the Steinhafels Graphic Design team took a tour. A customer of the mill's products, Steinhafels wanted to see how paper is made and how the process has evolved. Steinhafels has been a customer of the mill for almost eight years. Dick Stallmann, Steinhafels marketing director says, "They make a great sheet for our newspaper inserts, and we prefer how it looks and feels versus other options in the market. Newspaper advertising remains a very cost efficient way to reach a lot of customers. Additionally, the ability to show a wide assortment of products and prices on a single page is one of the strengths of this medium." Catalyst paper makes more than 1,000 tons of paper a day.

Learn more about Steinhafels' tour of Catalyst Paper visit the full tour article.

PCS tomahawk mill sign


At PCA's containerboard mill in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, they produce reels of paper weighing in at around 20 tons each that are cut down into rolls and shipped to box customers. PCA produces 500,000 tons of corrugated product each year for box plants. To meet that production level they bring in about 90 truckloads of wood a day in addition to utilizing re-pulped waste corrugated material. According to PCA staff, 80 percent of PCA's paper goes to PCA box plants, while the rest is sold on the open market. The facility burns bark and generates 33 percent of its 40-megawatt-a-day-electrical-need.


Lumber millBiewer Lumber Sawmill in Prentice, Wisconsin

Lumber production in Minnesota accounts for 15 percent of wood consumed a year. Biewer Lumber Sawmill in Prentice, Wisconsin established there in 1990 is currently the largest sawmill in Wisconsin. It uses primarily red pine at a rate of 65 truckloads a day. The mills lumber grading process is completely automated with a 28-bin sort. Knots and knot clusters are the primary factors in determining the lumbers' grade and about 60 percent of each log makes it out of the facility as lumber.

In the past few years state-of-the-art technology installed has given Biewer the competitive edge to deliver wood products in most of the dimensions requested by customers, helping to achieve the highest return on investment. Thad Henderson, sawmill plant manager said "Our throughput would be a little higher if we did one thing all the time, and there is a cost to having that versatility, but overall, it's a net gain." Biewer lumber produces primarily 2-by-4s, 2-by-6's, and 4-by-4s in 12 and 16 foot lengths. A majority of the lumber remains in the lake states region. The big-box retailer Menards is a major Biewer Lumber Sawmill customer.

Read more about PCA's containerboard facility and the Biewer Lumber Sawmill tours

In all wood products diversification, utilization and efficiency are key. That diversification and efficiency need to come from being able to fully utilize the wood efficiently and have a diverse variety of products or commodity markets available. Ian Miller, a PCA process engineer, sums it up in stating that "a log can become paper in about 45 minutes", "At the end of the day, we just produce the most paper most efficiently."


Wisconsin Paper Council
Paper industry still strong in Wisconsin