How much land for a living
How many forested acres are needed to supply enough timber to support you? June 3, 2003
I'm trying to figure out how many acres of relatively mature woodlot I would need to make a living sawing, drying and retailing, say 50,000 bf of hardwood every year, keeping the woodlot in well-managed condition in the process. I know it's all a matter of species and conditions of the woodlot, etc., but I'm looking for a ballpark figure. Is anyone already doing this (owning and managing the whole process of retailing hardwood)?
I am just beginning to do what you are contemplating. I have cobbled together 85 acres in southern NH, and last June moved into the house that adjoined my earlier purchases of land. We have about 70 acres of forest, with 60 of that being untouched for some 100 years, along with 10 acres in apples and the rest beaver ponds. My estimates are 230,000 bd ft of logs and just under 2000 cords of firewood. Current growth rates of less than an eighth of an inch per year due to the crowded celestory in this unmanaged forest correspond to less than a 1.5 percent increase in saw timber. This would give less than 4000 feet per year to remove without impact. However, there is a real need for thinning in my forest. I will probably remove much of the stressed understory as firewood, while taking some 10 to 20,000 bd ft per year of crooked, forked, and double trees over the next 5 years. If my thinning increases growth, I will then have more growth on larger trees. To sum this up, you need to do some numbers gathering to find tree diameters and growth rates to answer your question. As for my forest, the numbers work only if I do the work, add value with my Wood-Mizer, and include firewood in the equation.
From the original questioner:
Did you get the figures you mention from a management plan? I understand from what you said that you expect to have about 3,300 bd ft of usable lumber per acre. I can relate to such a number; maybe a bit conservative for a mature forest?
Where did you get that 1.5% increase per year for the saw lumber? That sure is a relevant number, if accurate.
Your question is one that foresters have wrestled with for years. No one can give you a definite answer as there are many variables. How much is your land worth to the tax man now? How much standing timber is on it? Do you get a favorable tax rate on forest land in your state? What is the rate of growth of each of your species? How many stems per acre of each species? What is the value of standing timber? What would a logger give you? What is the interest rate you would expect to receive if you sold the property and put the money in the bank? All of these questions may seem trite but these are the things you show know before you can be comfortable with the decision you will have to make. Remember: timber is a crop and growth is the basis of yield.
Your answer will depend on where your land is located and what species you are going to use. There are growth simulators out there that will give you predictions of growth under different circumstances. A management plan developed by a forester should give you your present growth and what increases you will get with proper management. If you provide your general location, I can give you some ball park figures.
Our family has been logging and sawmilling our own place for about 10 years. We have about 500 acres of timber, 100 acres of which is planted shortleaf pine. It was planted in the late 50's and has been thinned twice. We contracted that out because we can't keep up with the other. We have a dairy farm so only spend about half-time at the timber end. There are three of us that work at it - myself, my father, and my son. We have found that selling to industries rather than individuals is better for us. We are fortunate to have buyers for ties, pallet stock, and grade lumber within 50 miles. Our equipment consists of a fwd tractor with loader on front and winch on back, a log wagon we pull behind that, a log truck, a Cat wheel loader, a Wood-Mizer, an edger, a band resaw, a scragg mill, and a lumber truck. The scragg mill and resaw was added last to use small cull trees and slabs. We sell edgings and thin slabs to a charcoal plant.
We started with just the Wood-Mizer and a farm tractor and added as the operation paid its way. Some of the land has pretty sorry timber and some is quite a lot better. I think we would probably not be able to keep up with growth if we worked full time.
Be sure to remove over-mature trees and don't leave any cull trees growing so that the added growth in the future will be both better and faster.
We got a book on forestry and several videos (borrowed free from the Mo. Dept. of Conservation) that demonstrated about everything we needed to know from logging to sawing grade lumber to knowing which trees to cut and different management strategies.
From the original questioner:
Since I posted the first message, I had a forestry technician survey my land, as a first step to a management plan. I'm not sure I'll go all the way on that track, though. Up here in Québec, there's sort of a string attached to the management plan route: they give you grants to manage the land, but they tell you what to cut and when to cut it. I fear this won't help me earning a living out of it. With a bit of info gathering, I think I can figure out sort of a custom-made management plan.
As for my land, we figured there's about 600,000 bd ft of usable lumber and cordwood on it (on 50 acres). I can see the lumber I can harvest in the next coming years; I've got a harder time figuring the growth rate and what it will bring me in terms of future harvest.
As for my original question (how much land for a living), I now think that I should double or triple my acreage of mature forest (100-150 acres) to be able to completely rely on its yield for my small sawmill operation.
I am a for tech here in eastern Canada. A general rule of thumb, assuming your soil is of good quality and your forest is managed properly, is you should expect an annual cut of 1.5 cords per acre per year, i.e. on 100 acres you could harvest up to 150 cords per year and never deplete your resource. Factors: if all trees are mature, growth per year will be much lower and if all trees are saplings, growth per year will also be very low. Most volume growth occurs in the pole stage to maturity stages of development. Therefore, you need to work the woods to get stands in various stages of development to meet your goals. This will take many years. You should start by removing poor form/species and overmature trees to allow for new growth. Also thinning young stands is important to maximize growth potential. Another overlooked variable will be forest decline resulting from environmental stress from ground level ozone and other pollutants which are starting to affect our forests. If you are adding value to the products, you should do okay.