Farmers know that growing a crop involves much more than scattering seed on the ground and walking away. The forests on your property also are a kind of crop. Although they aren’t harvested annually, forests still require hard work to reap rewards. Managing your forest as a crop will increase the health of the forest, improve wildlife habitat and maximize your profits.
One method landowners can use to improve their forest is called crop tree management. It involves removing poor quality trees in order to provide more water, nutrients and sunlight to promote the growth of the remaining trees. Crop tree management focuses on the trees that are left to grow rather than the ones being harvested.
Cape Girardeau County landowner, Mark Nussbaum has been practicing intensive crop tree management for 10 years. He said he first looked at the species, quality and wildlife values of the trees present. His next step was “weeding the forest” by thinning the undesirable trees. This released the remaining “crop trees” from competition that would keep them from attaining their optimum growth and value.
This concept flies in the face of the practice of harvesting only large trees with the idea of “releasing” the smaller, presumably younger trees for growth.
Most forests in Missouri are even-aged due to previous heavy harvesting, and the small-diameter trees in a forest are often as old as larger trees. The trees are different sizes because some receive more sunlight, allowing them to grow at a faster rate.
Small-crowned trees that are overtopped by other trees are called suppressed trees. Many of our forests are dominated by suppressed oaks, which do not grow well in the shade of other tree species. What’s more, these trees have lost the ability for the crown to expand and, even if conditions improve, will only slowly grow in diameter. It is important not to select these suppressed trees as crop trees.
Selling Small Trees
Before your crop trees mature to their full value, you’ll be harvesting a crop of small-diameter wood. A good forest manager would take maximum advantage of this byproduct of crop tree management.
A lot of small-diameter wood becomes firewood. Although firewood sales in most areas are seasonal, there are ways to generate sales year-round. For
example, landowner Doug Kulik, who lives north of Sam A. Baker State Park in Wayne County, sells most of his firewood to campers during the summer tourist months.
Two chip mills in Missouri buy tree-length