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Why The Farmer Should Practice Forestry

( Originally Published 1922 )

The tree crop is a profitable crop for the average farmer to grow. Notwithstanding the comparatively sure and easy incomes which result from the farm woodlands that are well managed, farmers as a class neglect their timber. Not infrequently they sell their timber on the stump at low rates through ignorance of the real market value of the wood. In other cases, they do not care for their woodlands properly. They cut without regard to future growth. They do not pile the slashings and hence expose the timber tracts to fire dangers. They convert young trees into hewed crossties which would yield twice as great a return if allowed to grow for four or five years longer and then be cut as lumber.

Just to show how a small tract of trees will grow into money if allowed to mature, the case of a three-acre side-hill pasture in New England is interesting. Forty-four years ago the farmer who owned this waste land dug up fourteen hundred seedling pines which were growing in a clump and set them out on the side hill. Twenty years later the farmer died. His widow sold the three acres of young pine for $300. Fifteen years later the woodlot again changed hands for a consideration of $1,000, a lumber company buying it. Today, this small body of pine woods contains 90,000 board feet of lumber worth at least $1,500 on the stump. The farmer who set out the trees devoted about $35 worth of land and labor to the miniature forest. Within a generation this expenditure has grown into a valuable asset which yielded a return of $34.09 a year on the investment.

A New York farmer who plays square with his woodland realizes a continuous profit of $1 a day from a 115-acre timber tract. The annual growth of this well-managed farm forest is .65 cords of wood per acre, equivalent to 75 cords of wood mostly tulip poplar a year. The farmer's profit amounts to $4.68 a cord, or a total of $364.50 from the entire timber tract. Over in New Hampshire, an associate sold a two acre stand of white pine this was before the inflated war prices were in force for $2,000 on the stump. The total cut of this farm forest amounted to 254 cords equivalent to 170,000 board feet of lumber. This was an average of about 85,000 feet an acre. The trees were between eighty and eighty-five years old when felled. This indicates an annual growth on each acre of about 1,000 feet of lumber. The gross re-turns from the sale of the woodland crops amounted to $12.20 an acre a year. These, of course, are not average instances.

Farmers should prize their woodlands because they provide building material for fences and farm outbuildings as well as for general repairs. The farm woodland also supplies fuel for the farm house. Any surplus materials can be sold in the form of standing timber, sawlogs, posts, poles, crossties, pulpwood, blocks or bolts. The farm forest also serves as a good windbreak for the farm buildings. It supplies shelter for the livestock during stormy weather and protects the soil against erosion. During slack times, it provides profitable work for the farm hands.

There are approximately one fifth of a billion acres of farm woodlands in the United States. In the eastern United States there are about 169,000,000 acres of farmland forests. If these woodlands could be joined together in a solid strip one hundred miles wide, they would reach from New York to San Francisco. They would amount to an area almost eight times as large as the combined forests of France which furnished the bulk of the timber used by the Allies during the World War.

In the North, the farm woodlands compose two-fifths of all the forests. Altogether there are approximately 53,000,000 acres of farm woodlots which yield a gross income of about $162,000,000 annually to their owners. Surveys show that in the New England States more than 65 per cent, of the forested land is on farms, while in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa from 80 to 100 per cent, of the timber tracts are on corn belt farms. Conditions in the South also emphasize the importance of farm woods, as in this region there are more than 125,000,000 acres which yield an income of about $150,000,000 a year. In fact the woodlands on the farms compose about 50 per cent. of all the forest lands south of the Mason-Dixon line. In Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Oklahoma, over 60 per cent, of all the forest land is on farms.

The Government says timber raising is very profitable in the Eastern States because there is plenty of cheap land which is not suitable for farming, while the rainfall is abundant and favors rapid tree growth. Furthermore, there are many large cities which use enormous supplies of lumber. The transportation facilities, both rail and water, are excellent. This section is a long distance from the last of the virgin forests of the Pacific Coast country.

The farms that reported at the last census sold an average of about $82 worth of tree crop products a year. New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania each sold over $15,000,000 worth of lumber and other forest products from their farm woodlots during a single season. In 1918 the report showed that the farms of the country burn up about 78,000,000 cords of firewood annually, equal to approximately 11.5 cords of fuel a farm. The Southern States burn more wood than the colder Northern States. In North Carolina each farm consumes eighteen cords of fuel annually, while the farms of South Carolina and Arkansas used seventeen cords apiece, and those of Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Kentucky from fifteen to sixteen cords. Even under these conditions of extensive cordwood use, our farm woodlots are producing only about one third to one-half of the wood supplies which they could grow if they were properly managed.

The farmer who appreciates the importance of caring for his home forests is always interested in knowing how much timber will grow on an acre during a period of twelve months. The Government reports that where the farm wood-lots are fully stocked with trees and well-cared for, an acre of hardwoods will produce from one half to one cord of wood a cord of wood is equal to about 500 board feet of lumber. A pine forest will produce from one to two cords of wood an acre. The growth is greater in the warmer southern climate than it is in the North where the growing season is much shorter. Expert foresters say that posts and crossties can be grown in from ten to thirty years and that most of the rapid growing trees will make saw timber in between twenty and forty years.

After the farm woodland is logged, a new stand of young trees will develop from seeds or sprouts from the stumps. Farmers find that it is profitable to harrow the ground in the cut-over woodlands to aid natural reproduction, or to turn hogs into the timber tract to rustle a living as these animals aid in scattering the seed under favorable circumstances. It is also noteworthy that the most vigorous sprouts come from the clean, well-cut stumps from which the trees were cut during the late fall, winter or early spring before the sap begins to flow. The top of each stump should be cut slanting so that it will readily shed water. The trees that reproduce by sprouts include the oak, hickory, basswood, chestnut, gum, cottonwood, willows and young short-leaf and pitch pines.

In order that the farm woodland may be kept in the best of productive condition, the farmer should remove for firewood the trees adapted only for that purpose. Usually, removing these trees improves the growth of the remaining trees by giving them better chances to develop. Trees should be cut whose growth has been stunted because trees of more rapid growth crowded them out. Diseased trees or those that have been seriously injured by insects should be felled. In sections exposed to chestnut blight or gypsy moth infection, it is advisable to remove the chestnut and birch trees before they are damaged seriously, It is wise management to cut the fire-scarred trees as well as those that are crooked, large crowned and short boled, as they will not make good lumber. The removal of these undesirable trees improves the forest by providing more growing space for the sturdy, healthy trees. Sound dead trees as well as the slow-growing trees that crowd the fast growing varieties should be cut. In addition, where such less valuable trees as the beech, birch, black oak, jack oak or black gum are crowding valuable trees like the sugar maples, white or short-leaf pines, yellow poplar or white oak, the former species should be chopped down. These cutting operations should be done with the least possible damage to the living and young trees. The "weed trees" should be cut down, just as the weeds are hoed out of a field of corn, in order that the surviving trees may make better growth.

Often the farmer errs in marketing his tree crops. There have been numerous instances where farmers have been deluded by timber cruisers and others who purchased their valuable forest tracts for a mere fraction of what the woodlands were really worth. The United States Forest Service and State Forestry Departments have investigated many of these cases and its experts advise farmers who are planning to sell tree crops to get prices for the various wood products from as many sawmills and wood-using plants as possible. The foresters recommend that the farmers consult with their neighbors who have sold timber. Sometimes it may pay to sell the timber locally if the prices are right, as then the heavy transportation costs are eliminated. Most states have state foresters who examine woodlands and advise the owner just what to do.

It pays to advertise in the newspapers and secure as many competitive bids as possible for the timber on the stump. Generally, unless the prices offered for such timber are unusually high, the farmer will get greater returns by logging and sawing the timber and selling it in the form of lumber and other wood products. The farmer who owns a large forest tract should have some reliable and experienced timberman carefully inspect his timber and estimate the amount and value. The owner should deal with only responsible buyers. He should use a written agreement in selling timber, particularly where the purchaser is to do the cutting. The farm wood-land owner must always bear in mind that standing timber can always be held over a period of low prices without rapid deterioration. In selling lumber, the best plan is to use the inferior timber at home for building and repair work and to market the best of the material.

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