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Tree Farmers Will Feel Drought Effects For Years To Come

Tree Farmers Will Feel Drought Effects For Years To Come
August 25, 2007 |

For a farmer who only produces three or four crops in a lifetime, a year of drought like the one affecting Alabama’s timber industry this year can be especially devastating. Jimmy Parnell, who is president of the Chilton County Farmers Federation and a member of the Federation’s state board of directors, has been in the timber and logging industry his entire life. Like his father and his grandfather, he’s seen dry years, but this one has taken an exceptional toll.Standing on a 150-acre tract of land where mature trees were harvested in the winter of 2005, Parnell said most of the work done to plant the next generation of trees on that land has dried up.”On this particular tract, after the trees were harvested, we cleaned it up, sprayed it and burned it to prepare it for planting,” said Parnell, who is a member of the Federation’s State Forestry Committee. “We replanted it in February of this year. Looks like we picked a bad year to plant it.”In all, Parnell said this year he planted about 1,000 acres of trees for himself and other landowners.Federation Forestry Division Director Steve Guy was with Parnell when he recently toured the tract to survey survival rates of the seedlings he planted in February. Parnell said the survival rate appears to be about 25-30 percent — well below the typical average of 85-90 percent for seedlings planted on a prepared site.
Parnell said it cost about $60 an acre for the trees and labor to plant them, not to mention he’s lost a year’s worth of growth and future income.”We’ll probably have to respray areas like this tract so the weeds are not ahead of the pines when we replant,” Parnell said. “That will cost another $65-$70 an acre. It’s a significant loss, that’s for sure.”The sad thing is, what’s happening on Parnell’s land, isn’t unusual, Guy said.”I’ve seen this throughout the state and talked to dozens of landowners who are experiencing the same problems,” Guy said. “A dry year, mixed with a late-spring freeze, has been disastrous for seedlings planted throughout the state this year.”Another issue landowners are facing is whether they will replant this year. Those tiny seedlings, if they survived, can be hard to spot among weeds and other competition that may have developed. So first, the landowner has to determine the survival rate of the trees he planted last year. Then, if it’s too low, he has to order seedlings and make preparations to replant, including ordering seedlings.”Most tree planting takes place from late December to early March, Guy said. Seedling orders usually have to be placed by late summer. All of the expense to prepare the land for replanting, including the labor and cost of spraying, will fall squarely on the shoulders of the landowner, he said.”We’re going to feel the effects of this drought for years to come,” Guy said, “not just in the loss of growth of trees or in dead seedlings. A drought of this nature puts a lot of stress on trees. When trees are stressed, they are much more susceptible to insects, especially the Southern pine beetle. We’re already seeing outbreaks where the beetles are destroying pine trees. Pine beetles are attracted to stressed trees like a shark to blood.”Parnell said there’s lots of talk in the media about the effects of the drought on traditional crops, but the timber industry can sometimes be forgotten. “When you consider the lost growth of the trees in our state, the dollar value can be staggering,” Parnell said. “You can figure that the average growth of a pine tree is about two cords per acre, per year, so that would be two cords lost in value.”Your return with a traditional, annual crop is more visible,” he said. “You can easily see when it doesn’t perform well. With timber, your crop takes 20 to 25 years to mature, so you could miss a year or two of growth during that time and it won’t necessarily show up right away.”

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