Managing For Pine Straw...
Pine straw production can usually be initiated around age 8 or 9 for slash pine and at about age 10 for longleaf pine. The peak years for straw production are from age 11 or 12 to about age 16. After that, straw volume often begins to decrease and the prevalence of dead trees, sticks, etc. increases, making the raking job more difficult. For slash pine, if thinning is going to be part of the management regime, the pines should be thinned by age 15 or 16. With longleaf, the window for raking is longer, and the landowner can usually wait until about age 18 or so to thin. Landowners who want to emphasize pine straw production and/or a pulpwood rotation often avoid thinning, rake straw until about age 18 or 20, then clear-cut the stand and start over.
Most pine straw sales are done on a “per bale” basis, which usually produces more revenue than a fixed per acre price. However, some landowners like the security and certainty of a per acre arrangement with the money usually paid by the straw buyer up front. Either way, it is not uncommon to see annual pine straw revenues in the $100 to $150 per acre range, and sometimes much more. Longleaf pine straw generally commands a premium price in the marketplace, as it is preferred by professional straw users, such as landscapers. This is because it stays in the bale better and holds its color and beauty much longer than slash pine.
Some landowners and many pine straw buyers prefer to fertilize their pine straw stands on a regular basis. This not only produces more straw but increases the fertility to and growth of the trees. Fertilization has lost much of its luster in recent years due to increased prices, but it is often a good investment for the landowner and helps to avoid depleting the site's nutrients.
Managing for pine straw can be very rewarding and even lucrative, but it often requires much more diligence, work, and expense to make it possible than other management regimes. Planning for pine straw production on cutover sites often begins before the timber harvest.
Pine Straw Checklist:
(1) Is your timber stand planted with slash or longleaf pine? Contractors in our area generally do not purchase loblolly, shortleaf, or sand pine straw.
(2) Does the stand have good, consistent stocking? “Holes” or skips in the stand allow sunlight to penetrate the canopy which promotes the growth of understory competition.
(3) The understory must be kept exceptionally clean of all hardwoods, vines, briars, and weeds. The understory of the stand typically must be mowed and/or sprayed each year.
(4) Row spacing must be adequate to allow for mowing and spraying and to permit small equipment to access the stand to transport straw. If rows are too wide, however, the stand will not form a good canopy, allowing excessive sunlight to get to the forest floor.
(5) The vast majority of successful pine straw stands are those planted on old fields – cultivated or pasture – where competition is less and easier to control
(6) On cutover sites, additional site preparation is usually required to put the stand in a position to be a candidate for raking straw. Spot raking is usually required.
(7) Rows must be fairly straight and uniform to allow pine straw production. Crooked rows or rows that “pinch in” are problematic. This often rules out hand planting.
(8) Management must include mowing pine middles at an early age, usually starting around two to four years old to remove incidental hardwoods or volunteer pines while they are still small and easy to mow.
(9) Access to the property must allow for large tractor trailer trucks to enter and maneuver. Small open areas are also usually necessary to park trailers and load the bales of straw.