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.

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

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.

Site Preparation for Planting: Start Early!

You can’t start too early preparing your site for planting, especially when you include the most important part to any worthwhile project: the planning phase. It’s a good idea to start planning even prior to the existing stand(s) of timber being sold. Most cutover sites need one full growing season to sprout before site prep herbicides are applied. With that in mind, try to schedule/complete harvesting operations prior to April so that sufficient re-sprout can occur and conditions are optimal for site preparation chemicals.

There are many steps involved in the site preparation process and a lot of them are weather dependent. For instance, the wind speed and direction are key components and optimal conditions will vary for each tract. There are times in the summer and fall when wind speeds are too high to spray and this condition could last for several days.

Listed below are some general steps in the site preparation process as well as things to consider for each step to make your project run more efficiently.

  • Reserve Seedlings – Try to reserve seedlings in early spring to obtain the best genetics and the right species for your site. Most nurseries sell out of their premium seedlings by mid-summer of each year.
  • Firelane Establishment – Allow time for dozer or tractor to install firelanes. It is a good idea to establish firelanes prior to spraying. This practice is usually done in the summer months.
  • Site Preparation Burning – This usually occurs six to eight weeks after the site preparation chemicals are applied. Smoke management plans and burning plans need to be written and burn permits need to be acquired prior to each burn. Weather conditions must be just right for each tract in order for the burn to take place.
  • Contract Planters – It’s a good idea to have planting vendors contracted prior to the end of summer. Most vendors start planting in late November and most of them are completely booked by that time.
  • Planting – Plant as early as possible to ensure adequate root growth prior to hot and dry conditions that usually occur in early spring of each year. The earlier you start planting the more flexibility you will have to work around weather constraints and other delays.

At Southern Forestry Consultants, our goal is to make your site preparation and planting process go as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. So, call your local SFC Forester to start making your site preparation and planting plans today.

Your Forest Management Plan: The Road Map to Success

Imagine going on an extended trip without looking at a map or plugging in to your GPS device. There will almost certainly be some detours, backtracking, and dead ends along the way. In all likelihood, you would eventually get to your destination, but wouldn’t the trip have been a lot more efficient if you had planned your route? A written Forest Management Plan is the equivalent of your “Road Map to Success” in arriving at your destination in the most efficient way. Having a written plan can be your road map to success in managing your forest.

In the case of your plan, the “destination” is your management objective(s). Your primary objective might be maximizing timber revenues. Or it could be optimizing wildlife habitat in general or for a specific wildlife species. Maybe soil and water conservation, aesthetics, or outdoor recreation is your primary focus. Many landowners want to incorporate some elements of all of these into their management plan, but the primary objective should be the one that’s driving the bus. Whatever your objectives, your natural resources professional will have to know what those are in order to prepare a plan that works for you. Otherwise, you will have a road map that takes you to the wrong destination.

A good Forest Management Plan will not only describe the property in detail and address your objectives, but will have many other components. Those components will include various maps (location, topographical, soils, timber type), stand specific recommendations, and a proposed timetable for implementation. The plan should not only tell you the what but should also tell give you the why, when, and how so that you can understand and implement the recommendations. Although the plan should be your “fingerprint” which is unique to you, any good natural resource professional should be able to pick it up, read it, and be able to efficiently implement the plan.

In addition to helping you reach your objectives, your management plan also provides other benefits. It consolidates your information in one place so that you don’t have to go looking for it. The plan also reinforces your agricultural status in most states, and it can make you eligible for entry into the Tree Farm system, which will allow your property to be “certified” under Tree Farm’s umbrella certification. The plan may also be desired or required for certain cost share programs.

You should keep in mind that a written management plan should be a flexible tool, not one that is rigid and unbending. It should be consulted on a regular basis and revised to reflect changes in the weather, markets, financial needs, and objectives. Sit down at least once a year with your natural resources professional to review the plan and make needed adjustments. If you are taking an extended trip, don’t you make changes in your route or schedule along the way due to factors such as road construction, traffic, weather, or desired side trips?

At Southern Forestry Consultants, we do much of our written management plan work in the hot summer months. The mostly indoor work fits in well with 95 degree heat and humidity! The summer also comes after our most hectic seasons: tree planting and prescribed burning. During the summer, we don’t take our foot off the gas, but at least we don’t have the pedal on the floor! It’s a good time for us to spend time with you reviewing your plans and objectives. If your current Forest Management Plan was written using stone and chisel, or if you don’t have a plan at all, contact your SFC forester or biologist to get started preparing your “Road Map to Success.”

Timber Basis, Who Needs One?

According to the official dictionary of Forestry and several of my university professors (no offense intended), a basis is the set of nonzero valued decision variables in a mathematical programming solution and the values of the reduced costs and dual prices associated Blah! Blah! Blah! and on and on and on! Hopefully, you’re still with me.

Now that I have given you a taste of what I went through in college, let me give you the simplified version of what a timber basis is and why you need one.

A timber basis is the appraised value of the timber at the time it changes ownership. It is the baseline value of your timber. When you purchase or inherit property (timber, according to the IRS code, is real property) you pay the state and federal income taxes on that property, and therefore are not subject to pay income taxes on it again, if you have established an acceptable timber basis (pay attention to the operative terms). A basis allows you to offset your long-term (12 months or more) capital gain by your baseline value.

Simplified Version – it may get you out of paying taxes, again.
Example: If your timber was worth $25,000 (timber basis) the day you took ownership and five years later you sold that timber or a portion of it for $35,000 your gain is $10,000, remember you are subject to taxes on only the gain if you have an acceptable timber basis. If you are in the 15% federal capital gains tax bracket then you would only pay $1,500 in federal income taxes, with a savings of $3,750. You will have used your timber basis and it will effectively drop to zero. If you had not established an acceptable timber basis your tax burden would have been $5,250 on the entire $35,000. Remember! You already paid the income taxes on this property the day you took ownership, why pay it again?

So what do you do if you have not established a timber basis? Have one established, there’s no time like the present. Delaying establishment of a timber basis can complicate the process, so don’t wait until the last minute, as appraisals, especially discounted ones take time. The timber will have to be appraised (cruised, researched and valued) and then discounted to the year in which you took ownership. Timber basis save you money in the long-run. If you have any questions contact your local SFC representative. He can answer your questions and help get you started.

Prescribed Burning – A Truly American Tradition

Fires are a part of our past that should be embraced. Before European contact with Native Americans, the indigenous people of the southeast were horticulturists (farmers). They grew maize (corn), squash, beans, sunflowers and pumpkins. By the beginning of the 16th century, Indians had cleared millions of acres for crops and set fires to hundreds of millions of acres annually to improve habitat for game, facilitate travel, reduce insects, pests and vermin, eliminate cover for potential enemies, enhance conditions for berry production, drive game, and for other purposes that improved their overall lives. Extensive areas of forestland in North America, particularly in the South were open and park-like due to Native American Indian caused fires. Early settlers talked of the ease of riding a horse or maneuvering a carriage under the forest canopy and recounted the practice of frequent Indian burning. Our native longleaf pine ecosystems consisting of warm season grasses, gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers and a vast array of other open canopy species all thrived under native people’s propensity to regularly burn the understory of our southern forests (MacCleery 1994).

So you see, as prescribed burning season approaches, it is part of the history of America to renew our forests annually in our time honored tradition of burning the understory of our forests, through controlled fire.

In today’s modern world, there are two types of prescribed burns: Site preparation burning for reforestation, and woods or understory burning.

Site preparation burning is generally performed after a final timber harvest and as part of the reforestation activities. The objective of this burn, which is normally performed in the fall, is to get the fire as hot as possible in order to reduce logging slash and debris. This type of fire exposes bare mineral soil, thereby making it easier to plant seedlings for a new forest.

Depending on the primary objective, woods or understory burning (more readily known as prescribed burning) is performed beginning in the winter months and extends into the early summer months. Prescribed fire can benefit a forest on many levels. It protects the crop trees from devastating wildfires by reducing fuel loads, and recycles the nutrients from these fuels back to the soil. Performed and timed correctly, these nutrient influxes can produce results similar to a light fertilizer application. Fire also sets back the natural succession of a stand by controlling unwanted hardwood competition that competes with the crop trees for sunlight, nutrients, and water. A proper fire regime maintains high quality understory herbaceous vegetation, making the stand attractive to many species of wildlife. Fire promotes more palatable legumes and forbs; many of which are high in essential nutrients, and in some cases promotes wiregrass and other native warm season grasses that are aesthetically pleasing and beneficial to many native wildlife species. Prescribed burning on a continuous and balanced rotation also increases beneficial insect populations that are utilized as a food source by wildlife, while decreasing detrimental parasite and disease-causing organism populations. A consistent fire regime implemented over a period of years, can reduce future reforestation costs. Light prescribed burns can improve stand access for hunting and other recreational uses, and create a more appealing, park-like appearance. Research indicates that managed tracts receive higher land and timber prices than those that are unmanaged. When you consider all the benefits it provides, prescribed fire is an incredibly cost-effective and powerful management tool.

The Native American Indians were on to something! With all these benefits, how could prescribed burning not be a major part of your overall natural resource management planning?