The Best Tree

One question that I am often asked is, “What is the best tree to plant?”  The quick answer to that question lies at the intersection of the specific site qualities and the landowner’s objectives.  In other words, it often can and will be a different answer for different people.  For example, the site qualities may dictate that loblolly pine is the “best” species for a particular site, but if the landowner wants to engage in pine straw production, that species choice likely won’t work due to the lack of markets for loblolly straw.  So, selecting the most appropriate species is an important decision and one that your forester can help you make.

All that being said, many times the species selection may be a “no-brainer” due to the extremes of the site, i.e. it may be so dry or wet or sandy that only one pine species is really appropriate.  In those instances, the decision is easy – Mother Nature made it for you!  However, in many cases, the landowner must evaluate his or her goals and objectives, as well as local markets, in order to make the best decision.  The landowner should also be aware of the characteristics of each species, plus the strengths and weaknesses of those species.  Let’s review the major commercial pine species:


David Stephens, Bugwood.org
David Stephens, Bugwood.org

Pinus Taeda  –  Loblolly pine is by far the most planted pine species in the Southeast, making up about 80% of the seedlings planted each year in that region. Known to many locals as “black pine” due to its dark appearance, it has even been planted north of its natural range into parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and southern Illinois.  There is a reason for its popularity – loblolly grows very rapidly on a wide variety of sites.  It does especially well on those sites with heavier, clay-based soils, but does poorly on sandy sites or excessively wet sites.  Loblolly has high nutrient requirements and responds very well to fertilization, which has allowed it to expand onto sites that were traditionally reserved for slash pine.  It is a prolific natural seeder that usually produces a plethora of cones each year and often seeds into abandoned fields, leading some folks to call it “field pine.”  Loblolly has shorter needles, making it undesirable for pine straw production.  Loblolly also tends to be more crooked, possess more limbs and has wood that is less dense than other species, although the more recent genetically improved varieties have begun to overcome many of those issues.  It also is less tolerant of fire and more susceptible to bark beetles than other pine species, especially in overstocked stands.  Since it grows naturally in hammocks, loblolly competes well with hardwoods and responds very well to thinning.  It is slightly less desirable to sawmills because it does not produce as much grade lumber as other pine species.


David Stephens, Bugwood.org
David Stephens, Bugwood.org

Pinus Elliottii  –  Slash pine grows naturally on sites along the Coastal Plain of the U.S. that are alternately wet and dry, such as flatwoods sites and in the margins around cypress ponds and swamps.  It is often planted up on beds because the sites it is chosen for often have a high water table.  Slash can grow on a wide variety of sites, and when planted on the right site, it can grow quite rapidly.  Its needles are longer than loblolly and hold their color better, making it a desirable species for pine straw production.  It is a little more tolerant of fire and bark beetles than loblolly, but it does not withstand hardwood competition well at all.  Slash pine tends to grow straighter, and it has less knots, as well as slightly more dense wood than loblolly.  Our most serious problem with slash pine is its lack of natural resistance to fusiform rust, a spore borne disease that affects pines in their early years.  Fusiform rust can kill the young pines but often will simply deform them via stem galls, degrading their value to lumber mills or rendering them useful only for pulpwood.  If thinned properly and grown long enough, slash pines can make fine stands of timber that have high percentages of utility poles and sawtimber.


pinus-palustris

Pinus Palustris   –  Longleaf pine, also known as “longleaf yellow pine,” once covered much of the southeastern United States, but now is just a fraction of the acreage that the early European settlers found.  It can grow well on a wide variety of sites, including sandy sites where loblolly and slash do not perform well.  Longleaf is a slow starter and tends to stay in the “grass stage” where it looks like a tuft of grass, part of its natural defense against wildfire.  Longleaf pines have long needles (surprise!) that help to protect a large, sliver bud from fire, particularly in its early stages.  Its needles are preferred by pine straw buyers and bring a premium price on the straw market.  However, longleaf pine is usually more difficult and expensive to establish than loblolly or slash pine, and it is very sensitive to competition in its early stages.  This often requires multiple herbicide treatments and/or prescribed burns to control the competition and release it from the “grass stage.”  The lumber is prized by sawmills and pole buyers salivate over natural longleaf pine stands, but it must be grown to a longer rotation (35 to 40 years) than loblolly or slash to attain its maximum economic value.  Longleaf tends to be more resistant to insects and most diseases, and it is much more fire resistant than slash or loblolly pine.  It is also often preferred by wildlife managers because of its tendency to produce a more open canopy that does not shade out herbaceous ground cover and because it can be safely prescribe burned at a very young age.  More longleaf is being planted now with the advent of containerized seedlings, increased knowledge, better cultural practices, and government cost share programs that bias toward longleaf pine.


Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

Pinus echinata  –  Shortleaf pine grows mostly on clay soils and thrives on many of the same sites as loblolly pine.  Since loblolly grows faster, shortleaf is not commonly planted.  That may change to some degree due to renewed interest in the recovery of shortleaf pine in recent years.  It has short needles, as you probably assumed, and numerous, small cones – shortleaf is a very prolific seed producer.  This species is quite common on the quail plantations in the Thomasville/Tallahassee area and the trees can get very large.  The wood is dense since shortleaf is slower growing than loblolly, making the lumber desirable to sawmills.


Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Pinus clausa  –  Sand pine grows naturally only in two areas – the Florida panhandle and in central Florida.  True to its name, sand pine grows on sites that are such deep sands that literally no other pines can thrive on them.  The trees have numerous limbs with very short needles and lots of very small cones.  The species is generally only planted where there is no other commercial option since sand pine is usually only suitable for pulpwood or mulch.  However, on sites that are not too dry, sand pine will produce surprisingly high pulpwood volumes within a relatively short (approximately 20 years) rotation.  Also, since it grows on dry sites that allow for “all weather” logging, sand pine can bring a premium price during extreme wet weather periods.


Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

Pinus glabra  –  Spruce pine is not a southern yellow pine and is not commercially planted.  It typically grows on wetter, mesic sites along river bottoms, creek drainages, and hammocks.  Although spruce pines can and do grow to very large sizes, the trees tend to have excessive crook and sweep.  These properties make it undesirable to sawmills.  However, plywood mills will usually accept it, as will pulp mills.  The needles are small, as are the cones, and in fact, it is difficult to differentiate a young spruce pine from a young sand pine tree.  The needles are small and dark green, and the cones are numerous and tiny.  The bark looks much like one of the hardwood trees that spruce pine commonly grows among.

Consulting Foresters, What Do They Do?

What do you do for a living? This is the first question that is asked during most casual conversations. When my answer is, “I am a consulting forester”, there is an onslaught of questions that follow. What is that?  Why should someone hire you?  What do you actually do?  How much do you charge? These are just a few of the questions that I get asked when someone hears that I am a forestry consultant.

The answers to these questions are not always clear and can be misunderstood in a casual conversation. Below, you will find a more thorough and hopefully clearer explanation as to what a consulting forester does and how one can be beneficial to you.

What is a consulting forester?

First of all, a consulting forester is a professional forester with a forestry degree from an accredited university working for a private company.  Forestry consultants offer forestry and land management advice to landowners while focusing on the landowner’s personal objectives.  Often times the term “consultant” is used by timber buyers, loggers, and foresters that are employed by forest product companies whose main focus is to procure wood products for the company employing them.  An actual consulting forester has no ties or obligations to any wood production or forest products company.  Our only obligation is to the landowners who hire us for our services. Knowing the difference between these types of foresters is important for one to recognize when trying to make decisions regarding your timber and property management.

Why hire a consulting forester?

Consulting foresters bring a wide array of services to landowners that other foresters may not be able to offer.  For example, foresters employed by government agencies or forest products companies are usually not able to offer a complete package of services that are afforded to consulting foresters.  A consulting forester has the landowner’s objectives in mind and is focused on helping the landowner make the correct decisions to meet those objectives.  A consulting forester will also ensure that practices used will enhance the condition and value of your property.  Whether it is a timber sale, road construction, wildlife habitat improvement, or reforestation, a consultant is able to guide the landowner through the process from beginning to end.

Many landowners question why they need a “middle-man” to do something they can do themselves.  Timber sales handled by a consultant almost always generate more revenue than sales conducted directly between landowners and timber buyers.  I think the main reason for using a consultant to handle a timber sale is for their knowledge.  Knowledge of timber prices is one thing consultants can pride themselves on.  Many factors including tree species, products, and weather conditions contribute to changing timber prices.  Timber prices change frequently and can change very quickly depending on market conditions.  Consulting foresters continuously monitor these changes and can help landowners make good decisions about when and how to sell their timber to take advantage of good timber markets.  A landowner using a consulting forester will get the true market value for their timber.  A consultant will also ensure that a contract protecting the landowner is signed and abided by during the timber sale process.  This is a very important document which details the landowner’s responsibilities and the responsibilities of the timber buyer.

Once again, the consultant is focused on the landowner’s goals and knows how to help achieve them.  Not only is getting a good price for timber important, but knowing what a landowner will be left with is just as important.  Whether it is a thinning or a clearcut, a consultant can give advice on the next steps to take to enhance the property’s future condition.  For example, a consultant marking trees to be harvested during a thinning will ensure that the remaining timber is healthy and capable of meeting the landowner’s future objectives.

To quickly summarize why one should hire a consulting forester starts with the wide array of services a consultant can offer and most importantly that the consultant works for you, and not a forest products company, timber buyer, or any other agency.

What does a consulting forester do?

As previously mentioned, consulting foresters can offer a wide range of services and not all consultants offer the exact same services.  Consulting foresters may advise landowners on timber valuations, reforestation, timber tax and forest property tax issues, reforestation, timber values for estate planning, enhancing wildlife habitat, just to name a few.  A consulting forester completely understands the goals of the landowner, gathers information regarding their property and forest, and puts a plan in place to help achieve those goals.  These management plans serve as a road map to reach the landowner’s goals and objectives.

A consulting forester serves as your agent during the timber sale process. This includes handling the timber sale bid process (preparing bid prospectus, advertising the timber sale to timber buyers, showing the subject timber to the buyers, collecting bids, evaluating bids, preparing contracts), marking the timber, supervising harvest operations, and handling income settlements.

Consulting foresters can handle reforestation activities and advise landowners on the appropriate activities needed and make sure these activities are completed in a timely and effective manner. These may include site preparation (herbicide and/or burning), tree species selection and purchasing, and tree planting.

These are only a few of the services offered by consulting foresters.  Forestry consultants offer a variety of services to help landowners achieve their land management objectives and can conduct projects from start to finish.  For a complete list of activities offered by Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc. visit our webpage at www.soforest.com

How much does a consulting forester cost?

There are no set costs for consulting fees for most forestry consultants. Fees are generally based on the activity, size of the property, or on an hourly rate.  For instance, a consulting forester will usually be paid a percentage of the timber sale income for conducting the sale.  This ensures that your consulting forester is trying to get the best prices for your timber.  For activities such as prescribed burning or herbicide applications, a consultant may charge by the acre.

The cost of consulting foresters depends on the property and the work being performed.  Be sure to ask your forester about their fees and pricing.

Conclusion

Who should hire a consulting forester?  This question really comes down to the landowner’s personal knowledge of forestry and forestry practices.  Anyone that has forestland and has questions regarding their assets or property should contact a consulting forester to determine if they could benefit from their professional assistance.  Remember, your consulting forester works for you.  Clearly convey your objectives for your forestland to your consultant so, that with proper activities, these goals can be achieved.

If you find yourself asking any of the questions above and want to know more about consulting forestry, give Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc. a call today.

Where Have All the Turkeys Gone?

Are you seeing as many turkeys as you normally do?  How many gobblers have you been hearing on your spring turkey hunting trips?  If your answers to these questions is either “no” or “not very many” you must be wondering why.  Opinions are plentiful about the apparent decline in turkey numbers.  Some probably have some merit, others not so much.  One thing is certain, many states across the south are reporting reduced turkey populations.  The chart below shows the reproductive trends in Georgia for the last 35 years based on poult to hen ratios as measured by their wildlife biologists. Ratios above 2.0 indicate an average to good hatch, while <2.0 is not good.  Georgia numbers have generally been under 2 for the last 10+ years.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this statewide trend in turkey reproduction is not good.  Let’s explore some of the possible reasons for these declines.

turkey-chart

Prescribed Burning

The relationship between turkeys and prescribed burning has been researched for many years.  More recently, much of this research has focused on the impact of growing season burning (normally considered to be burns conducted after April 1) on turkey reproduction and habitat quality.  Research indicates that hens prefer to nest in areas that have been burned within the last 2 years.  Areas not burned within the last 2 years are generally avoided by hens.  Without question, prescribed burning is a very important tool in the turkey management tool box.  When those burns should be conducted is still up for debate.  One study found little difference in insect abundance between winter and spring burned areas, while another study found a sharp increase in the average number of insects the first year after a growing season burn.  Burns conducted before April 1 (i.e. cool season) have little impact on actual turkey nests, however growing season burns have been shown to destroy some nests.  Are the nest losses enough to impact the overall turkey population?  The research says no.  Studies in Mississippi and Georgia found that while a few nests were destroyed by growing season fires, the overall percentages were low and in many cases the hens re-nested further reducing the impact of these losses.  Both of these studies concluded that overall habitat improvement outweighed the loss of a few nests.

Regardless of your opinion on the impacts of growing season burning, it is hard to imagine that enough growing season burning is being done to impact turkey populations throughout the south.  A more likely cause for reduced turkey numbers is complete lack of prescribe burning on millions of acres in the southeast.  I travel a lot across the south, and with the exception of large quail plantations and most federal properties, regularly burned tracts are the exception rather than the norm.  The limited use of prescribed fire should be a major concern of southern turkey hunters.

Predators

Like burning, the impacts of predators on turkey populations has been well researched.  There is no doubt that predators impact turkey numbers but which predators are doing the most damage?  Historically, nest predators such as raccoons, opossums, and skunks have had a far greater impact on turkey reproduction than larger predators like bobcats and coyotes.  Coyotes have been receiving a lot of press lately about their impacts on wildlife populations.  I’m sure that coyotes will opportunistically eat turkey eggs, poults, and hens, but the most current research indicates that their impacts to population numbers is not nearly as great as the egg eaters mentioned above.

Should you practice predator control on your property?  The short answer is certainly “yes”, but don’t expect that removing a few coons and possums will put a turkey behind every bush.  Intensive predator control is expensive, labor intensive and research shows that while it can be successful, if habitat conditions are not suitable to accommodate the additional reproduction, then your efforts will not be rewarded.  Take home message: Get your habitat in shape before undertaking an intensive predator control project.

Hunting

It is a generally accepted premise that harvesting a limited numbers of males from a population does not impact overall population health.  This is the theory behind gobbler only spring turkey hunting.  Harvesting gobblers after hens have been bred has little impact to overall turkey numbers.  While that is true I would like to offer another point of view to this accepted principle.  If you agree that turkey reproduction has been trending down as indicated by the previous chart, then fewer turkeys, thus few gobblers, are being produced each year.    Turkey hunter numbers have been increasing.  Turkey hunting technology and the use of gadgets (decoys, blinds, etc.) has without a doubt increased hunter success.  Yet with this increased success, season bag limits have not changed in most southern states in many years.  Here is the rub: if fewer gobblers are being hatched and more gobblers are being killed, than it would stand to reason that after a few seasons the numbers of gobblers heard on a spring morning would be reduced.  Is this the reason hunters seem to be hearing less gobbling each spring?  Is it time to consider reducing bag limits, making jakes illegal, and/or shortening the season?

Discussion

There is certainly no silver bullet when it comes to increasing turkey populations.  No single event or issue is responsible for the decline, but more likely it is a combination of many things.  That is the way things work in nature.

If you are concerned about burning up turkey nests, schedule your burning earlier in the year.  Most hens begin to nest, at least in our part of the world, in late March to early April.  Incubation, on average, begins in mid-April.  Whether you schedule your burns early or prefer growing season burns, please burn – it is extremely important to burn!

I would encourage everyone to try trapping and predator hunting.  These are very interesting sports that require improving your outdoor skills and knowledge of the critter you pursue.  Coyote hunting is gaining popularity, especially by those concerned about deer fawn production.  Give it a try, you might like it!

Spring turkey hunting is a grand sport and one that I have enjoyed for years.  I fear that with the increased emphasis on killing turkeys, we are losing the essence of the sport.  Are we at a turkey hunting crossroads where consideration should be given to reducing bag limits?  I’m sure there is a wide divergence of opinion on this, but we should at least be having a conversation about it.

One positive to come from these downward trending numbers is that increased research dollars are being spent to further understand turkey ecology.  Turkeys were heavily researched in the 1970’s and 1980’s as turkey populations were being rebuilt and expanding.  Turkey research waned some in the 90’s but is picking up steam now.  While there are no simple answers, hopefully recent and upcoming research findings will put us back on the path to increasing turkey numbers.  We certainly hope so.

Reducing Risk Through Hunting Liability Insurance

The last thing many of us want to think about when going out on our lake to fish or entering the woods on a hunt is the potential that exists for accidents to occur.  Furthermore, even when we observe safety standards and practices, accidents do occur. While other forms of recreation generate far more accidents per activity (including fatalities), hunting and fishing could generate far more inherent liability than most people’s homeowner’s policies will cover.  Therefore, it is recommended that all hunting clubs and landowners take steps to reduce their exposure and protect their personal and/or family assets from these liability risks.

As more landowners began recognize the revenue potential from leasing their land for hunting purposes in the 1960’s and 1970’s, more private land began to be hunted and leased.  The first hunting liability policies began to be issued in the 1980’s as more people began to hunt on leased private lands (thereby increasing the landowner’s liability).  In some instances, landowners and hunting club members attempt to reduce their liability exposure by having their lessees/other members sign liability waivers.  However, the liability coverage afforded by these waivers is limited and should always be combined with a hunting liability policy.

What does it cover?

The three highest risk activities associated with hunting are treestands, ATV use, firearms.  Recent estimates from the International Hunters Education Association estimate the most common type of hunting-related accidents are related to falls (www.ihea.com).  ATV accidents generally account for the second-most injuries associated with hunting club activities.  Only about 1,000 firearm-related hunting club accidents occur annually and approximately 10% of those are fatal.  Most of these firearm accidents occur from the failure of the shooter to identify the target.

Generally, all policies cover exposure for the insured parties on these high risk activities.  Standard policies, recommended by many insurance agents, provide $1 million per occurrence general liability coverage and $2 million general aggregate coverage, with minimal or no deductible.  Additional coverage often includes:

  • $100,000 damage or fire legal liability;
  • $5,000 medical supplement;
  • Member-to-Member Coverage;
  • Premises Based Coverage; and
  • Guest Liability Coverage.

Policies may also often cover some limited watercraft use, hunting dogs, electronics, cell phones, and electronics.  Finally, it is important to understand all exclusions that may apply on each specific policy.  For instance, most policies exclude the operation of commercial hunting operations and guide services.  Some policies fire liability coverage may only cover timber damage, while other policies would cover cabins and houses.  Other policies may provide strict definitions on the coverage afforded to ATV use for “hunting activities.”

How much does it cost?

Insurance premiums for hunting liability insurance have decreased dramatically since their peak in the early 1990’s.  These annual premiums for hunting liability insurance are commonly based on the acreage associated with the club.  A general rule, regardless of issuing company, annual premiums are approximately 10 to 15 cents per acre for land and clubs over 1,000 acres.  Smaller clubs and lands under 1,000 acres generally have a set minimum fee of $200 to $300.  Hunting clubs on industrial forestland generally enjoy even more reduced rates, since the landowner obtains the policy across the entire landbase and passes those savings along to the clubs.

Landowners may require the hunting clubs on their property to obtain, maintain, and provide proof of hunting liability insurance as a condition of the lease.  The landowner may also require the hunting club to list the landowner “additional insured” on the policy to protect them from the activities of the club.  If the landowner purchases the policy, the inverse is true.  The landowner can require a list of all hunting club members from the club to list as “additional insured” on the policy.  This option is appealing to many landowners because they can insure a policy is written and maintained for the property, add additional family and friends on the policy as “additional insured”, and maintain the policy in the absence of a hunting club.  In this landowner-held policy option, the cost of these premiums can be passed along to the hunting within the per acre price of the lease.

Southern Forestry Consultants and Wiregrass Ecological Associates offer wildlife, fisheries, and land management services to meet the needs of your forest, pond, or hunting club.  We have experience and expertise leasing properties for landowners and managing leases of all sizes across the southeast.  If you have any questions about these services or the liability associated with your land, lessees, or hunting club, call Austin at 229.246.9651.

NOTE: Similar to all other insurance policies, you should consult your insurance agent on the levels of coverage and options available to protect the level of exposure unique to your club and land.  These options may differ between properties and states, as the listing of admitted vs. non-admitted carriers may change.  Additional information regarding the financial-strength and issuer credit ratings of each insurance company (i.e., their ability to pay your potential claim) can be found through the US-based rating agency, A.M. Best (www.ambest.com).

Pinestrawing 101

As the demand for Pine Straw increases throughout the South, I am often asked these three questions. What type of straw do buyers want? Does strawing remove nutrients from my site? How long should I lease my straw rights?

The answer to the first question is simple. Generally, buyers prefer Longleaf and Slash straw. These species generally have a higher Lignin content in the straw that makes it last much longer than Loblolly straw. Also, Loblolly stands often times have more limbs and debris in the understory which makes them inefficient to rake. This does not mean that you cannot rake and sell Loblolly straw, but in south Georgia, Alabama, and Florida Longleaf and Slash are by far the preferred species. You will probably have difficulty in selling Loblolly straw due to the abundance of Longleaf and Slash.

The second question is a little more complex and may require soil and foliar samples to really get a definitive answer. There are definitely nutrients being removed from site. Studies from Auburn University and the University of Georgia have shown that nutrient losses from one or two removals of straw are small and unlikely to affect stand productivity. Subsequent rakings however, may begin to affect stand productivity and fertilization treatments may be warranted to offset nutrient removals. Also, it is a good practice not to allow raking down to mineral soil. By doing so, you can increase chances for erosion and for soil temperatures to become too high.

Depending on the age and density of your stand, in my opinion, a three to five year straw lease would be profitable with minimal nutrient removal. Beyond three years, it would be a good idea to do annual soil and foliar samples to make sure that tree health and vigor is not affected by continued straw removal.

We are currently administering straw leases for many of our clients. Please call if you have any questions or need further details.

Cows in the Woods

Far from just cows in the woods; Silvopasture is the intensive integrated management of trees (forest products), forage (warm and cool season) and livestock production on a single parcel of land, at the same time. In this article we will focus our silvopastoral systems in conjunction with pine forest products grown in the southeastern U.S., specifically in south Alabama/Georgia and northern Florida, however silvopastoral systems can be implemented with other types of crop trees (pecans, walnut trees etc…).

In the southeast silvopastoral systems can be established either by planting loblolly, slash or longleaf pine trees in a particular arrangement in a pasture, or by thinning a stand of trees and planting a forage crop. Special tree arrangements in silvopastures allow for tree and forage growth, as well as for hay production and livestock grazing.

 

Establishment from a pasture

I have read many silvopastoral articles that site many different tree arrangements. I have my own arrangements that I prefer because it satisfies our specific area needs. Slash (Pinus elliotti) and longleaf (pinus palustris) pines are great species for silvopastural systems because their crowns are not as dense as loblolly and they provide more sunlight to the forest floor, which is necessary for livestock grazing. No matter which species you decide to plant, use only the best genetic stock. Slash and longleaf should be planted on row spacing ten or twelve feet apart, depending on the size of your ranch equipment (seeders, mowers, hay equipment etc…), and six feet in between trees. Seven rows should be planted with 50 foot alleyways (hay production and grazing areas) in between.

illustration1When it’s time for the first thinning a third row thinning should be implemented.   The two outside rows should be removed and the middle row. A selective thinning, favoring the best crop trees should be performed on the remaining rows. Once implemented the alleyways will increase to 70 feet and the crop trees (future sawtimber & poles) will occupy only 60 feet, with plenty of sunlight reaching the forest floor.

illustration2Loblolly has become my favorite tree to use in a silvopasture system, not just any improved variety, but there are new types of loblolly available, clones and/or mass control pollinated. By using these new type of seedlings you know what you are getting, the best of the best. These seedlings show great promise. These new loblolly have pruning capabilities, excellent form class (pole potential) and straightness that rivals slash and longleaf, in addition they have better growth and disease resistance than slash or longleaf.   Using a flex stand system (one row varietals and one row non-varietals), seedlings should be planted on row spacing 10 to 12 feet apart. Varietals should be planted ten feet between trees. Fill-in or trainer trees (non-varietal, a good genetic stock) should be planted five or six feet between trees. A total of nine rows should be planted, with the two outer rows as trainer rows; again 50 foot alleyways should be planned.illustration3

When it’s time for the first thinning all trainer rows should be removed leaving only the well space varietals (20’ between rows and 10’ between trees) for your future crop trees. Once implemented the alleyways will increase to 70 feet and the crop trees (future sawtimber & poles) will occupy 60 feet, with plenty of sunlight reaching the forest floor.illustration4

Livestock should be kept out of the planted pine areas until trees are at least 10’ in height, generally three to four years, depending on tree species and soil productivity. During this time alleyways can be used for hay production.

 

Establishment from a stand of existing trees

If you are implementing a silvopasture from an existing stand of trees, thin as if performing a third row thinning. Leave 4 rows of thinned pines and then cut out a 70 foot alleyway, repeat this process until the entire stand is thinned. As a rule, alleyways should be adjacent to all perimeter fences (established or planned).illustration5

 

Forages for Silvopasture

 Silvopasture grass species that will work best in south Georgia will be one of the Bahia grasses and ryegrass in winter. One of the improved Pensacola Bahia grasses will be best, Tifton-9 or TifQuik or UF Riata. They green up early and keep growing late in the fall. One of the hybrid Bermuda’s (Tift 85 or Russell) could be used, but won’t do quite as well and they are expensive to establish.

Ryegrass over-seeded into the Bahia grass stand will give some good winter and silvo2spring grazing. Ryegrass will give a longer time of grazing in the spring than other winter forages. Also, it’s been noticed that ryegrass planted in trees will even provide forage a little longer into May and early June than where there are no trees. Of course if you want the most from your Bahia grass, graze or mow down the ryegrass when you want the Bahia to come out strong in the spring.

Cool season grasses may tolerate a higher tree density and still maintain their production levels. When seasonal rainfall quantity and distribution are less than optimal, forage production in silvopastures may be 10 to 15 percent less than open pastures. Bahia grass will tend to do much better under pines than Bermuda grass, as evidenced by the more recent observations at Americus, GA. However, I think the best silvopasture work is lightly stocked with cattle, and better use of co-grazing with goats,” says UGA scientist Dennis Hancock.

The best time to plant Bahia grass is in the early spring on upland soils or in late spring on low, moist soils. Plantings made later in the summer can be successful, but weed competition (primarily aggressive summer annual grasses, such as crabgrass, goosegrass, and crowsfootgrass) can be a problem. Dry weather can also slow Bahia grass establishment. Bahia grass can be successfully seeded in early fall in South Georgia, South Alabama and Northern Florida.

Bahia grass seed are small and should be planted shallow, no more than ¼ – to ½ inch deep. This will allow for quicker emergence and promote seedling vigor.

Bahia grass seed have variable germination rates. Some seeds germinate quickly after planting while others may not germinate until the following year. Generally, 50 to 60 percent of the seed will germinate within 30 days. TifQuik and possibly the new Riata are exceptions, as most of their seed will germinate readily within one to two weeks after planting if soil conditions are favorable. Seed dormancy is much lower in some varieties, resulting in the need for higher seeding rates.

 

Planting Methods

 Bahia grass may be planted in several ways. No-till planting methods should be employed if there is a risk of soil erosion (e.g., sloping land). No-till establishment methods can result in an acceptable stand of Bahia grass, but often require high seeding rates and control of existing vegetation. It is critical that the existing stand/crop and any weeds are destroyed. Sometimes this requires two applications of a non-selective herbicide (four to six weeks apart).

If the risk of soil erosion is minimal, conventionally-tilled seedbed preparation can be used to establish Bahia grass. When conventional seedbed preparation and establishment techniques are employed, it is recommended that the “stale-seedbed” method be used. In this method, the first step is to destroy the existing vegetation by spraying with a non-selective herbicide. Next, recommended levels of lime and/or nutrients (based on soil test results) should be added so that they can be incorporated into the soil during the tillage phase. The land can then be tilled, disked, and packed. This also allows for any leveling or smoothing of the soil surface that may be necessary. The tillage and packing steps should be completed at least one month prior to planting so that the soil can settle/firm before planting. Properly packing and firming of the soil is necessary to prevent the seed from being planted too deeply. As a rule of thumb, footprints left in prepared soil that are approximately 1/4-inch deep indicate a firm seedbed. In addition to allowing the soil to become firm, this will allow many of the weeds in the disturbed soil to germinate and emerge. These weeds can then be destroyed using a non-selective herbicide within a few days of planting.

Once the seedbed is prepared, seed may be drilled into the soil or broadcast on top of the soil. When broadcasted, the seed must be covered with soil (no more than ¼ – to ½ -inch deep) with either a light disking or a cultipacker Seeding and cultipacking at the same time using a cultipacker-seeder (e.g., Brillion seeder) also works quite well. Seed can be more precisely placed into the seedbed when drilled. However, the small seedbox attachment must be used to plant Bahia grass because the seed are too small to be accurately measured in the grain drill seed cups.

 

Seeding Rates

 Seeding rates vary with variety and planting method. When using a Pensacola-type variety, the seeding rate should be 12 to 15 pounds of seeds per acre when the seeds are drilled into a prepared seedbed. When broadcasting seed onto a prepared seedbed or using no-till methods, increase the seeding rate of Pensacola-type varieties to 18 to 20 pounds per acre.

Tifton-9, TifQuik and UF Riata have much better seedling vigor than other Pensacola-type varieties and lower seeding rates can be used for these varieties. As a result, the seeding rate for Tifton-9 and TifQuik is 8 to 10 pounds per acre on prepared seedbeds and 12 to 15 pounds per acre when broadcasting or planting with a no-till drill.

 Mack Evans (pictured right) has been practicing silvopasture for many years. silvo3Mack has used the Tifton-9 and TifQuik in the past. He also recommends over-seeding in the winter with ryegrass, crimson clover and radish. The clover is a nitrogen fixing legume; the radish produces a long thick root system, when the dead root dries out and decays it acts as a soil-aerator.

 

Fertility at Establishment

 Prior to planting, apply any needed lime, P, or K (according to soil test recommendations). Avoid applying N before or at planting, as this may increase annual grass emergence before Bahia grass. Apply 35 to 50 pounds of N per acre after the seedlings emerge and start to grow. With early planting dates, a second application of 50 to 75 pounds of N per acre in early- to mid-summer may be necessary to promote rapid coverage.

Link to More Bahia establishment info

Bermuda Establishment link

 

Annual Ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum)

Annual ryegrass (commonly referred to as simply “ryegrass” in Georgia) is a silvo4well-adapted winter annual that can be planted in prepared seedbeds or overseeded onto perennial grass sods for late winter and spring grazing. Some newer varieties may even provide some late fall grazing if planted early and/or into a prepared seedbed. Ryegrass is also often seeded in mixtures with a small grain and/or clover. It is a prolific seed producer and will reseed in pastures (if allowed to go to seed). Ryegrass has a later grazing season than the small grains and can be grazed until early May in South Georgia and late May or early June in north Georgia when moisture is adequate.

Ryegrass is one of the highest quality forages that can be grown in Georgia, often providing more than 70 percent total digestible Nutrients (TDN) and 18 percent crude protein (CP) if grazed in the late vegetative stage. High quality (56 to 64 percent TDN and 10 to 16 percent CP) can also be expected in the early stages of seed-head development. However, quality and palatability of late season forage can be low due to disease (mainly rust) and maturity.

It is also commonly planted into dormant pastures or hayfields. This is a recommended practice, but the ryegrass should be mowed, cut for hay, or grazed before the summer perennial grass comes out of dormancy. Ryegrass harvesting could be timed (usually late March in South Georgia and late April in north Georgia) to prevent it from suppressing the spring emergence of your perennial grass.

Much of the above taken from and more information can be found at UGA Forages.

 

Rotationally Grazing Livestock

 No matter which grazing species you choose to manage, a rotational grazing system is a must. Five to twelve grazing units depending on stocking rates and soil productivity will be necessary to effectively manage a silvopastoral system. Short rotational grazing periods followed by long recovery/rest periods are important to the overall health of the forage, and inevitably the herd. Do not use fixed grazing time schedules.   Short-term over-grazing needs will have long-term forage production consequences, ultimately decreasing long term revenues. It is important to match the rotational grazing time to forage production. Carefully observe the forage to maintain sufficient leaf area for photosynthesis, and rotate the animals to a new grazing unit before regrowth of grazed forage develops. Forage quality diminishes with increased maturity; therefore it is imperative to plan the entire silvopastoral system around the forage program to maximize forage quality at its peak, ultimately benefiting the entire herd.

Conclusion

 Silvopasture involves the combined knowledge of timber, forage, and livestock production integrated simultaneously on a single tract. It can be an attractive management alternative, merging short-term annual cash flows from forage and livestock production with long-term, periodic income from timber sales. This is certainly not a complete guide to silvopasture, and silvopasture is not for everyone. Silvopasture is an active investment approach, as opposed to a passive investment approach, it involves an intensive management system designed to combine short and long term revenue streams. If you need additional information regarding silvopasture, contact Alan Emmons with Southern Forestry Consultants, or Rome Ethredge, Seminole County, Georgia Extension Agent.


alanAlan W. Emmons is Partner and Treasurer of Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc., a Certified Forester with the Society of American Foresters, a Georgia Registered Forester and Certified Burner in Georgia and Florida.   Alan is also an active Realtor, and partner in Southern Forestry Realty.   A 1985 graduate of North Carolina State University, he has 30 years of extensive forestry experience, up and down the east coast of the United States. You can contact Alan at (229) 220-1790 or aemmons@southernforestry.net.

 

romeRome Ethredge is a University of Georgia Extension agent in Seminole County, Georgia. He has been working in Agriculture and Environmental Sciences for more than 30 years.  He’s a graduate of ABAC and University of Georgia with B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agronomy. Contact your local county agent or if in Seminole county at Seminole County Extension  229-524-2326 or uge4253@uga.edu

What to Do About Coyotes?!

Wile E. Coyote has been front and center in many southeastern publications for the last few years. From popular hunting journals to scientific publications, much as been written about the impacts of coyotes on whitetail deer populations, namely the impact on fawn recruitment. Almost every deer hunter you talk to blames low deer numbers on coyotes. Numerous scientific research projects have documented low fawn recruitment resulting from coyote predation. Several studies have shown dramatic increases in fawn survival following coyote removal, while others show mixed results.

So what are we to believe? Let’s start with what we know. Coyotes arrived in the southeastern U.S. in the late 1960s and early 1970s as the result of relocation by “fox hunters.” While these relocations were not necessarily legal, they were certainly successful and since that time coyote populations have spread and are now common throughout the South. During the 1980s and ‘90s deer populations were also expanding across the South, filling vacant habitats and in fact over-populating many areas. Along about this time, either-sex deer harvest began to take hold in an effort to balance deer numbers with habitat conditions. We can be certain that coyotes were eating deer fawns during this period, however deer populations were so high and coyote populations relatively low, that no one noticed. In the early 2000s the either-sex harvests were beginning to have an impact on herd numbers and coyote numbers were starting to increase. We were setting up for the perfect storm!

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service at the Savannah River Site, near Aiken, South Carolina has provided some interesting and revealing facts about coyote induced fawn mortality. A 3-year removal effort, conducted on 3 – 8,000 acre areas, removed a total of 474 coyotes. This is an average of 158 coyotes per year (there was no significant difference in the number of coyotes caught between years) and 4.2 coyotes removed per square mile per year. There was a 78% reduction in coyotes following the first trapping season (mid-January – March) and it leveled off after that. Sixty-four percent of coyotes removed were <1 year old.

Fawn survival increased from 21% the year before trapping to 51% the 1st year after trapping, decreased to 23% in year 2, and increased to 43% in year 3. While there was an overall increase in fawn recruitment during the trapping period, it was modest and highly variable. One important thing they did figure out during this study is that coyote predation on fawns was additive mortality, meaning that this mortality would not have occurred had the coyotes not been present. Another interesting thing they learned was that habitat cover, i.e. heavy cover to hide fawns, had no impact on fawn survival.

So where does this leave us? First of all, coyotes are here to stay. Coyote control programs have been going on out West for decades and they still have plenty! Coyotes do prey on deer, primarily on young fawns, and can impact overall deer numbers. Coyote trapping can provide short-term relief for fawns; however trapping is expensive and requires knowledgeable trappers to be successful. If the decision is made to trap, it should be done just prior to the peak of fawn populations, which here in south Georgia is around August 1.

Assuming an aggressive coyote trapping program is not feasible for most landowners, what options are left for maintaining acceptable deer herds? There are two: habitat improvement and managing the doe harvest. There is no substitute for good habitat management. Prescribed burning, selective herbicide use, timber harvest (both thinning and clear-cutting), and year-round supplemental feeding, via food plots and/or feeders (key here is year-round) will improve habitat conditions for deer and many other wildlife species.

It took a long time for many hunters to embrace either-sex harvest but once we did, we really did! It is not something we are willing to give up easily nor should we, but we need to be smart about it. To really know if your property can handle doe harvest you need some idea of herd dynamics: population structure, buck/doe ratio, doe/fawn ratio, fawn recruitment, etc. These numbers can be collected with a properly designed camera survey. Collecting harvest data on deer killed on your property is also an important part of the equation.

Shooting an occasional coyote when the opportunity arises, while it certainly may make you feel better, will have little impact on your deer herd. A good trapping program can help but if you have limited resources, those resources are much better spent on habitat improvement efforts. Additionally, a reduced doe harvest may be necessary to compensate for coyote predation. As we have said many times, there is not a Silver Bullet in deer management so let’s control the things we can – doe harvest and habitat and not lose a lot of sleep over things we can’t – coyotes.

Enjoy your season and good hunting.

Joe McGlincy

Certified Wildlife Biologist

Wiregrass Ecological Associates

Pine Bark Beetles, Menacing As Ever

Pine bark beetles attack forests and stands of trees, which are stressed or appear to the beetles to be stressed. Mother Nature naturally thins our forest in many ways: wind, fire, flood, drought, insects (bark beetles) etc… In nature when trees begin to compete with each other for sunlight, water, and nutrients the trees become stressed and begin to die off. When the weak trees in a stand become stressed and begin to die, they emit an odor to which bark beetles key on and are attracted. Bark beetles flock to the unhealthy stand, and begin their relentless attack on the stressed and dying trees. Once the assault begins, many times healthy as well as unhealthy trees are attacked.

There are three types of pine bark beetles that attack live trees, Southern Pine Beetles (Dendroctonus frontalis), four species of Ips Beetles (Ips grandicollis, I. calligraphus, I. avulus, and I.pini ) and Black Turpentine Beetles (Dendroctonus terebrans).

Southern Pine Beetle (SPB) is the most destructive of the three types. There may be up to six generations of beetles per year. Adult SPB bore directly into the bark and mate. The females excavate the characteristic S-shaped egg galleries in the inner bark. Adults and larvae alike girdle trees quickly as they completely encircle the tree. The tree’s death is hastened by the introduction of blue-stain fungi which blocks the flow of nutrients and water to the crown of the tree. The pattern of movement is a key indicator when identifying this beetle, this movement across entire stands in short periods of time is what makes this beetle so devastating.

Ips Beetles are very similar in nature to Southern Pine Beetles. The adults and larvae completely girdle/encircle the inner bark of the trees, and with the aid of blue-stain fungi cut off the continued supply of nutrients and water, trees need for survival. Most of the time Ips beetles attack trees individually or in small groups, searching for weak trees throughout the stand. They move from one spot to another (this movement is an identifying characteristic pattern), but under favorable conditions can become epidemic and can devastate a stand.

Black Turpentine Beetles are the largest major bark beetle in our southern forests. These beetles create characteristically large pitch tubes which extend no higher than eight feet above the ground. There are usually only two full generations per year. This beetle does not introduce blue-stained fungi into the tree. The larvae feed in patches instead of completely girdling the inner bark of the tree, like Ips and Southern Pine Beetles. If the beetles are identified early, they can be treated with a chemical and in many cases the trees can be saved.

There is no way to prevent pine bark beetles from attacking our forests; however you can reduce the risk of attacks to stands of trees by ensuring they remain healthy. Good forest management, such as thinning at the proper times and densities, an effective prescribed burning program, fertilizing nutrient deficient stands, and removing or treating storm damaged trees promptly can keep your forest healthy and growing rapidly. If you suspect pine bark beetles in your stand, call your Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc. representative today and set up an inspection ASAP. Our foresters and biologists can help you identify and control these destructive insects.

Making Cent$

We all know that pine trees have value. That’s generally why we grow them – to cut and transform into lumber, paper, utility poles, plywood, boxes, and a myriad of other useful products that make our daily lives what they are. We also know that mature trees can be measured, the volume can be estimated (timber cruise), and a merchantable value placed on them. But what about the trees that aren’t big enough to cut yet?

Over the years, I have often heard landowners and others comment that young trees aren’t worth anything because they are too small to harvest. But actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Young trees are referred to as “pre-merchantable” and they do indeed have value. That value generally increases as the trees age, until one day…. Voila! They are now merchantable. In actuality, there is often a “gray area” of time when the trees are not quite big enough or maybe they are just big enough….. depending on who is making that determination. During this “gray area” of time, trees can often be placed into either the merchantable or the pre-merchantable category.

Foresters who are experienced in timber appraisals have ways to calculate the value of these young pines. These methods often utilize growth and yield models to estimate what volume of timber a stand of trees will produce at a given age. The models take into account the age, species, and stocking of the trees, as well as the site index. The site index is a measure of the productivity of the site, or site quality, for that species and is based on actual measurements taken in broad studies over time. The site quality is generally a function of the height of the trees, while the diameter is generally a function of the stocking. In other words, good soil produces tall trees faster than poorer soil.

Now, back to the growth and yield model: The forester can use these models to fairly accurately project the volume of timber that will be produced by a site at some time in the future. Using those estimated volumes, a value is generated from those volumes based on the appraiser’s knowledge and research of prices for the geographic area. This establishes what is known as the future value. Typically, the future value is then discounted back to the present using a discount rate (interest rate) that reflects the risk and illiquidity involved. In most cases, it will also reflect the desired rate of return of a prospective buyer/investor. This discounted future value results in what is known as the present value.

What the pre-merchantable value really says is, “What would a prudent investor pay for these pines that aren’t ready to cut yet if he/she expects to get a certain rate of return on their investment?” The real litmus test is often whether or not that value seems reasonable. In other words, would someone really pay that for these pines? Although timber is generally a relatively good, safe long term investment, it is not without its risks. Those risks can come in the form of fire, insects, disease, extreme weather (tornado, hurricane, ice storms, volcano eruptions, etc.), political decisions, and uncertain markets. The appraiser must factor in these risks for a particular tract using a higher or lower discount rate. A higher rate lowers the present value (more risk) while a lower rate increases the value (less risk).

So, you see, those young pines aren’t “worthless” after all, and in fact can carry substantial value. That value is generally well recognized in the forestry arena, but is often underestimated by buyers and sellers of property. Keep that in mind next time you look at your young pine stands, and remember, they are increasing in value every day!

Positioning Your Timber Assets to Maximize Value

The age old question is how do you maximize returns on your planted pine investment? The answer is simple, right? Well, if not simple it at least seemed fairly consistent for the past three decades as foresters in the Southeast perfected the strategy of growing planted pines for 25-40 years to produce quality saw logs that commanded a premium price when compared to chip-n-saw and pulpwood. We simply planted quality seedlings, thinned the stand between ages 12 and 15 to remove inferior and diseased trees, used prescribed fire on a 2 or 3 year rotation, thinned a second time to remove overcrowded trees and to identify the crop trees, and finally clear cut the stand when all the trees were saw-timber and the market was good. This tried and true approach has proven effective because it satisfied landowners’ cash flow needs and allowed landowners the opportunity to sell their crop as different products over time and at increasing per unit values. However, to effectively, comprehensively, and objectively analyze a current timber investment, we must address three key issues. First, how have timber markets changed over the last decade, with particular attention paid to the diminished premium for saw logs (both chip-n-saw and saw-timber) when compared to pulpwood. Second, we must analyze recent trends in reforestation and third, we must also forecast what the market will do over the next 20-40 years to effectively and proactively develop a strategy that maximizes return on investment and provides ample flexibility in case of additional fundamental changes in the market. In other words, are recent changes experienced in the market place short term, long term, or cyclical?
Let’s begin with a quick analysis of historical data provided by Timber Mart-South. By visiting the web page of Timber Mart-South and selecting the link “South-wide average prices,” anyone can view the price trends for all three major southern yellow pine product classes diagrammatically. The table below provides a summary of the information about per ton stumpage prices contained in the Timber Mart-South graph.

[table id=1 /]

The premium for saw logs over pulpwood has fallen from approximately $33.00 per ton ten years ago to about $14.00 per ton today (in this south-wide example). While these numbers alone should get your attention, let’s discuss these prices and the trend they indicate in the context of your planted pine investment. How does a higher value for pulpwood and lower value for saw-timber affect management strategy and individual management practices? The numbers reflected above require foresters and landowners to thoroughly assess the market on a fundamental level. This means running the necessary economic analyses of net present value (NPV), return on investment (ROI), and internal rate of return (IRR) to determine how to best manage your timber investment within the context of your personal goals and the LOCAL market conditions. The correct management decisions will absolutely vary based on local markets, landowner objectives, risk assessment, site productivity, etc. If your timberland is situated within close proximity to sawmills or plywood mills and per ton stumpage prices for these products are consistently higher than “average” due to the short hauling distance, then growing saw logs is likely still the optimal approach. On the contrary, if your timberland is situated within close proximity to pulp mills, biomass mills, or wood pellet mills and per ton stumpage prices for these small wood products are consistently higher than “average”, then shorter rotation ages with a single cutting for a single product may prove to be more lucrative. If you are lucky enough to have a clear option then maybe this discussion is a moot point for you. However, since rarely in life are options so clear and since only having one clear option is not necessarily a good situation to be in as a seller of any asset, it is quite advisable to broaden your marketing options by developing a management strategy that is based on the best estimate of future market place fundamentals while leaving open the option of manipulating your management strategy to position your asset for sale in the event of changes in the market place.
Here’s what we can at least forecast with some certainty. Nearly every forest economist today suggests that saw-timber markets in the Southeast will improve over the next decade due to a revitalized housing market, restricted and decreased supply of lumber from Canada, and increased demand from abroad, particularly China and other Asian economies. In addition, the future of pulpwood and “small wood” markets look bright as well. Emerging markets for products like pellets and biomass for fuel have increased competition for raw material within pulpwood or “small wood” markets. Also, many of the emerging Asian economies are in their infancy when it comes to consuming products that western economies have consumed for decades. So, both the small wood (pulpwood) and the large wood (saw-timber) markets have a good future. What does that mean? Again, the foremost “demand side” question is, “at what rate each market will improve from today’s position.” The foremost “supply side” question is, “what supply of raw material will be in the market place over time?” While this improving forecast places growers and producers in an attractive position moving forward, we must not get complacent and be satisfied that “getting better” is as good as we can do. The timber industry is a global business these days and changes in supply and demand or in consumer habits thousands of miles away affect the wood basket here in the Southeast. We must be adaptive and understand that management strategies about the next thinning, the next herbicide application or burn, the next rotation, or the future market, must be adaptive and properly analyzed to maximize returns on the investment as a whole.
The tables below are a sample of the ingredients of the “saw-timber” and the “pulpwood” investment strategies. I have not actually calculated any of the investment returns because to do so might lead you to think that “the answer in this example” is the best answer for all situations. It clearly is not, and in this comparative I do not include income from pine straw raking or hunting leases, nor do I include expenses for ad valorem taxes, severance taxes, income taxes, fertilization, and herbicide application(s). All of those are logical expenses that may be deemed necessary or beneficial, but each must be separately analyzed to determine their effect on the overall return in each scenario.

 [table id=2 /]                [table id=3 /]

Again, the examples are used only to show the differences in cash flow expectations in two general strategies of forest management. Neither is right and neither is wrong, and certainly both can be subtly manipulated to match the market conditions that exist wherever your property is located.
We all hope our crops will come to market when all the stars align. Sometimes the stars have a better chance of aligning when you help steer the boat, so as you plan for your next crop of trees or manage the crop you presently own, think about the end goal and how each step in the process affects the end goal. Growing timber can be very financially rewarding, and remember you can actually have an effect on the ultimate outcome of your investment. Take time to analyze what you do, and seek the help of a professional forester to assist you with the analysis. You won’t be sorry.