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Selective Tree Harvesting Is One Potential Source of Income

A usable tree will typically have one to four logs in it.

People have been row-crop farming in the Midwest for over 200 years. We’re far along enough, at this point, that most privately owned tillable land that someone would want to farm has been cleared.

So, the woods that remain are normally standing there for a reason – wind break, soil erosion control, ground water runoff, or personal hunting reserve. Therefore, clear-cutting timber for profit is not normally a consideration for Midwestern farmers. They want their woods standing in place for business purposes, not to mention the positive environmental and biological aspects.

Yet, there is a way to make a little money on your forest and keep the health of it strong – selective harvesting. You may already know much about forestland management and selective harvesting, but just in case you don’t, this article is a quick lesson on what to do and what to expect. 

Timber Management Tips

If you own even 10 acres of mature trees, it’s probably worth having a forester come out and assess your tree inventory. Timber buyers are going to want trees that are at least 18 inches in diameter, and they’ll look at how many 8-, 12-, or 16-foot logs they can get in total. A usable tree will typically have one to four logs in it. 

Of course, some tree species are worth more than others, and there are many species. There are over 50 kinds of oaks in Illinois alone. White oak tends to be the most valuable oak because it’s used in furniture, flooring, cabinets, and wine and whisky barrels. Red oaks and black oaks also have higher values than other oaks. In addition, veneer-quality walnuts and cherry trees command higher timber prices. 

Fortunely, almost any kind of hardwood can be used to make crane mats or pallets. So, whatever you have is probably salable at some price. 

If the forester thinks you have enough lumber to sell (likely at least 100 trees), for a percentage of the sale proceeds, he will inventory what you have and send lists out to potential buyers. The forester commissions I have seen run 8% to 12%, but that cost should be more than offset by higher sale proceeds and better long-run tree management.

Finding Timber Buyers

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, there are about 50 independent professional consulting foresters working in Illinois. That number seems small to cover a whole state, but if the proceeds are expected to be over $10,000, it becomes worth their time to travel.

In Illinois, there are nearly 400 licensed timber buyers. The licensed buyers will bid on what you have, and you will typically run with the highest bidder. 

Per Mike Karcher, a degreed forester, “Be sure to do the contract in writing and get 100% of the proceeds before the cutting begins.” A forester will mark trees that are well represented in your woods and leave in place examples of high-value species for future regeneration. 

He is supposed to come back after harvest to make sure the loggers have only cut the marked trees. After harvest, the newly available sunlight will reach the younger trees and speed their growth.    

Unethical Risks

There are some risks. An unethical logger may pay you for $10,000 worth of trees and then try to cut down $20,000 worth. 

So, you may want to pay particular attention to what they’re doing. 

Another risk is soil compaction from the logging trucks crossing the field. It may take a few years to correct the compaction on the temporary logging roads, but it can be done. 

No doubt there is some work involved in timber management, but that management pays off in the long run.

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Will you have enough on-farm storage for harvest?

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37% (15 votes)
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