Improving Forests through Better Logging: Why Rob the Bank You Own?

Final Report for FNC07-651

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $17,948.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Three landowners participated in this project; all are tree farmers practicing crop tree management. In this type of forest management, poor trees and those unlikely to survive to the next harvest are removed to concentrate water, nutrients, and sun light on the crop trees, which are left to grow and increase in value. Harvested areas were 17-28 ac.

The timber harvests conducted in this study were the first for two landowners and the third for one. All employed Best Management Practices (BMPs) to guard against soil erosion.

- Document and demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of BMPs combined with crop tree management
- Publicize the results of the study to tree farmers and loggers during three field days.

1. Identify cooperating landowners, loggers, and foresters willing to adhere to project criteria and share information.
2. Have foresters inventory stand and mark trees for harvest.
3. Sign contracts with loggers specifying payment for services rendered.
4. Train loggers to record operating hours of harvest equipment and sold volumes of timber classes.
5. Visit loggers on site to ensure adherence to data recording procedures.
6. Have foresters conduct post-harvest inventory and damage assessment.
7. Interview loggers to determine inputs for machine cost calculations for their different types of harvest equipment.
8. Calculate productivity of different machines as volume sold per operating hours.
9. Calculate machine cost according to standard procedures.
10. Calculate net operating revenues for landowners and loggers.
11. Prepare technical report (for eventual submission to peer-reviewed journal).
12. Synthesize key findings and prepare bulletins for landowners and loggers.
13. Publicize findings at field days and other presentations to forestry groups.

• Project Leader: Peter Becker
• Landowners: Peter Becker, Mark Nussbaum, and Karl Wolf, Jr. gave permission to conduct the study on their property and publicize the economic results of their timber sales.
• Loggers: Ron and Keith Tuttle, Dustin Lindgren, Brad Bell and Jason Tune harvested the timber, recorded operation hours and volumes of timber sold, and provided inputs to estimate expense of machine operation.
• Foresters: Michael Bill, Marty Calvert, Jason Jensen, Michael Norris, and Terry Thompson (all of Missouri Department of Conservation, MDC) measured pre- and post-harvest forest characteristics and harvest damage to crop trees. They and Terry Cunningham (Pioneer Forest, LLC) also reviewed the reports.
• Economist: Ted Bilek (USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Lab) assisted with economic analyses and reviewed reports.
• Organization of field days: Don Foerster, Jason Jensen and Mike Norris (MDC), Missouri Tree Farm Committee, Tammy Homfeldt and Steve Jarvis (Missouri Forest Products Association), Jeff Lamb, Randy Miller, and Heath Robertson (USDA NRCS), Jeana Rudd and Tammy Townsend (Carter County Soil and Water Conservation District, Boards of Big Springs and and Eastern Ozarks Forestry Council, and Jim Corpe (forest landowner).

Forest improvement harvests employing individual-tree and group selection were conducted in four oak or oak-hickory stands in the Missouri Ozarks with conventional equipment (chainsaw and skidder). Volumes (and revenues) for different timber classes (saw logs and smallwood = pulpwood, blocking, and pallet wood) and hours of machine use were recorded to calculate production rates. Multiplying these by estimated hourly machine costs and adding loading and transportation costs plus stumpage yielded the total harvest costs. Machine costs were reduced by low capital costs and owner servicing. The harvests proved financially worthwhile to both loggers and landowners. Revenue from smallwood substantially exceeded its harvest and delivery cost because little or no stumpage was paid for this material, but loggers could still generate positive net operating revenues if they paid a modest fee for sold smallwood.

Landowners’ returns could increase by retaining timber ownership rather than selling stumpage, but selling on shares was of variable benefit. The cost of implementing Best Management Practices (water bars and other erosion control structures) with a skidder was slight. Overall, the results supported crop tree management as an economically viable alternative to clear cutting and high grading.

A surprising result was that smallwood harvest did not require subsidy and was sometimes more profitable to the logger than saw log harvest. This means that Forest Stand Improvement (precommercial thinning) can sometimes be conducted without cost-share subsidy as a single-entry co-harvest with saw timber. These results also mean that woody biomass for bio-energy can be obtained in the Missouri Ozarks using conventional equipment as part of a forest improvement harvest.

We learned that it pays to formally analyze and document harvest operations rather than merely accept conventional wisdom. The participant landowners had a sense that crop tree management was economically sound; now they have facts to back that up. We also established that the cost of BMPs (water bars and other erosion control structures) was minor, and no real impediment to their implementation.

As noted above, lack of cost share funds should no longer be a barrier to implementation of forest improvement harvests, at least when a co-harvest with saw logs is possible. This harvest style cannot compete economically with liquidation harvests in the short term, but landowners, forests, and the environment will all do better in the long run with crop tree management.

We also learned that certain loggers have established harvest systems that are highly efficient in both production and utilization. Our goal is now to acquaint other loggers with this expertise to the mutual benefit of harvesters and tree farmers.

It is not presently possible to document the economic impact of our project. It has, however, provided the impetus for a serious re-examination of strategies for woody biomass harvest in
Missouri. This is very timely because a number of bio-energy projects have been recently proposed for Missouri, raising concerns about what sort of harvest practices will provide their feedstock.

1. The Project Leader made a presentation on the project at the Farmers Forum in Columbia, MO November 8, 2008; 24 attendees (mostly farmers).
An article reporting progress to date was prepared by Joan Benjamin with input from the Project Leader for NCR-SARE’s 2008 Farmer’s Forum Highlight.
2. Field days were advertised by press releases, newspaper ads, and individual mailings (330 for the Wolf event).
• Becker: October 25, 2008; 15 attendees (mostly loggers and foresters)
• Nussbaum: April 10, 2010; 92 attendees (mostly tree farmers as this was part of the annual meeting of Missouri Tree Farm)
• Wolf: June 19, 2010; 26 attendees (loggers and landowners)
3. Presentations (15-30 min.) were also made by the Project Leader to members of the forestry community as follows.
• Missouri Society of American Foresters May 18, 2010; ~70 attendees (mostly foresters) Missouri Forest Resource Advisory Council, June 24, 2010; ~50 attendees (mostly foresters and land managers)
• Missouri Forest Products Association, July 24, 2010; 49 attendees (mostly mill owners and loggers)
• Loggers Workshop, August 7, 2010; 50 attendees (mostly loggers after 230 individual mailings)
• A technical report titled, Productivity and Economics of Conventional Logging with BMPs in Co-Harvests of Saw Logs and Smallwood, is in preparation for submission to the Northern Journal of Applied Forestry. This cannot be shared until review and a decision about acceptance for publication has been completed. [Editor's note: The report was completed and accepted for publication by the Northern Journal of Applied Foresty. It will likely appear as a Field Note in the Journal in December 2011. In the meantime, the full report is available as: Improvement Harvest Economics and a condensed version as: Logger Harvest Guide at]
• Bulletins reporting the qualitative results of our study have been posted at the Eastern Ozarks Forestry Council’s website ( Crop Tree Management Improves
Your Forest and Its Earning Power targets landowners, and Co-Harvesting Saw logs and Smallwood Is Good for Your Bottom Line is for loggers. Copies are included with this report.

This project proves the value of funding forestry projects—let’s have more of them!


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.