Money grows on trees

ABERDEEN – Outdoor enthusiasts and common commuters alike can obviously see Mississippi’s forestland’s dominant presence. While green waves of pine trees and an array of hardwoods stretch from the Tennessee line to the Gulf Coast region, Monroe County itself has a strong showing.
Of Monroe County’s 489,069 acres, nearly 49 percent is forestland, but much of those 237,563 acres is an untapped resource. The county’s forest land is 27.7 percent pine, 61.5 percent hardwood and 10.9 percent mixed with pine and hardwood.
Just on the outskirts of Aberdeen, Coontail Farm transitioned from fields of soybeans to pines after the initial 65 acres were planted in 1989.
Following practices of spraying herbicides in years one, two and 13 and prescribed burning early every other spring, the trees were thinned in 2001, 2006 and 2012.
“With each thinning, half of the trees are harvested. If there’s a downturn in the housing market in 2017, I may wait a year or two, but in 2022, it will be time to plant a new crop for the next generation,” said Coontail Farm owner Bobby Watkins.
According to a report by the Mississippi State Extension Service, assessed value for forestland in Monroe County was valued at $9,168,534. The value of standing timber in 2007 was $386,070,412 and timber harvested that year was valued at $16,101,742. From 2007, it’s estimated that forestry and forest products created a $217 million output for the county.
“Supply and demand determines the price of timber more than anything else. It depends on how many mills are competing for timber. With the housing market, saw timber hits closer than the demand of pulpwood does,” said forester Bryan Wheeler, serving Monroe County with the Mississippi Forestry Commission.
Statewide, Mississippi averages $1 billion per year in harvested timber value, but reached its peak in 2005 with $1.45 billion in revenues. Forestry comes in second to poultry to be Mississippi’s leading agriculture crop.
Through forestry services, logging, solid wood products and wood furniture industry, forestry played into 1,267 jobs for Monroe County in 2007, according to the report.
The Mississippi Reforestation Tax Credit offers the incentive of an income tax credit up to 50 percent of the cost of approved hardwood and pine reforestation practices.
The tax credit promotes reforestation on private, nonindustrial lands. The credit applies only to individuals or groups of private nonindustrial landowners.
There is a lifetime limit of $75,000 associated with the program. In addition, a landowner may claim a tax credit of up to $10,000 in any single year with an unlimited carry-forward provision. Landowners must have a reforestation plan prepared by a graduate or registered forester to qualify.
The perennial practice of prescribed burning helps remove litter buildup such as saplings that take away some of the nutrition from the pines in addition to pine straw.
This practice is done early each spring. The Mississippi legislature passed the Mississippi Prescribed Burning Act that defines prescribed burning as a landowner property right. The act also recognizes the benefits to society, the environment and economy of the state.
Before thinning, pines have an annual growth rate of five-percent opposed to a 10-percent growth rate after thinning.
“Thinning has several purposes including removing poor quality trees from the stand, which leaves higher quality trees for future cuttings. The longer trees are left in the stand, there’s more of a potential for them to suffer from ice storms, insects and tornado damage. A properly managed plantation can help in those conditions,” Watkins said.
Pines are managed like a row crop.
As far as size of tree farms, Wheeler recommends 20 acres as a minimum.
“Loggers need bigger tracts do make more money. The more volume moved, the cheaper they’re operating expenses are. Since the forestry equipment is bigger, the more acreage a logger can cover, the better,” Wheeler said.
“My biggest learning experience is making decisions based on proven methods instead of emotions. Some people would think thinning pines would make their property look ugly and that’s the kind of mindset to stay away from,” Watkins said.
While hardwood is an option to explore in growing tree farms, pines have a better return rate. The maximum rate of return on a pine plantation is 30 to 35 years through several thinnings, but 50 to 70 years on a hardwood plantation with one cutting.
Pines prefer sandy soil with a pH range of 6.5, but can still grow in red clay. Clay soils work better for hardwoods.
“Forestry is a good investment for land. If you’re going to own it and pay taxes on it, why not use it as an investment for a tree farm,” Wheeler said.

RAY VAN DUSEN/MONROE JOURNALHARVESTING – Bobby Watkins watches as a piece of equipment cut down a pine tree at Coontail Farm. Trees were planted on the property in 1989 and it will be time to replant in 2022 after all the trees are clear cut.

RAY VAN DUSEN/MONROE JOURNAL
HARVESTING – Bobby Watkins watches as a piece of equipment cut down a pine tree at Coontail Farm. Trees were planted on the property in 1989 and it will be time to replant in 2022 after all the trees are clear cut.

About Ray Van Dusen

I've been with the Monroe Journal since Aug. 2009 as a staff writer, but took the role as news editor in late 2012. I'm always looking for interesting story ideas from around Monroe County. You can reach me via email at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.