Improve Grazing Profits by Marketing Cedar

Final Report for FNC99-248

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
FS Funds: $2,717.00
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Cedar has invaded thousands of acres of grasslands in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and other states, seriously impacting grazing land's profitability. Randall RC&D in September 1997 surveyed 234 landowners in 5 counties in south central South Dakota. Fifty-six landowners responded with 46,397 acres of grazing lands seriously affected. They reported an annual economic loss of $19,463 (calves they cannot produce) per landowner or $25.82 per affected acre. Considering this survey, Soils Surveys; input from NRCS, Conservation Districts, Cooperative Extension Service, and Randall RC&D Council members, Cedar seriously impacts approximately 200,000 plus acres of grazing lands in these five counties. The estimated economic loss is over $5,000,000 per year from reduced available grazing.

Landowner comments from the 1997 survey: "We used to put 160 cow/calf pairs out there. Now we are only putting 90 pairs." "Cedar and brush will reduce our grazing land to 10% capacity within 20 years." One rancher said that it takes 15 acres of Cedar-infested grasslands per cow/calf pair for the 5-month grazing season. He feels he should need only 5 acres of Cedar-free grasslands per cow/calf pair on his unit.

Effective methods of Cedar control (grazing management, prescribed burning, herbicides, and mechanical removal with dozer, chainsaw, shear, etc.) are used by some landowners. Extension Service, NRCS, SD Resource Conservation and Forestry, and Conservation Districts encourage greater usage. However, only a few landowners successfully maintain Cedar-free pastures. Control costs must be paid now, but dollar benefits may not be realized for several years. A method providing greater and more timely economic benefit is needed.

Developing and marketing wood products is being considered. Cedar is in demand as lumber, fence posts, shavings (pet and livestock bedding), oil (various uses), and mulch for landscaping. The lower quality Cedar available in this area, plus high costs of harvesting, processing, and transporting to distant markets have discourage using Cedar as an income producing resource.

Sustainable practices used before the Grant project:
• No-till Cropping – 2 years
• Grazing (take half/leave half of current year’s production of key species) - 40 years

Cattle numbers on 300 acres of rangeland had to be reduced from 60 cow/calf pairs to 10-15 cow/calf pairs over 40 years due to invasion of woody species. Eastern Red Cedar is the most dominant and aggressive species. Experts state that woody species have increased so dramatically due to climatic changes and improved wildfire control.

Cedar control methods attempted in the past: Controlled Burns, Mechanical Removal (dozing, chainsaws), and Herbicides. These methods were expensive and did not give satisfactory results.

Project Goals: Determine profitability from grazing lands for producers where the Cedar trees are harvested and processed into mulch. Mulch material is to be evaluated for erosion control on road construction sites and for weed control on tree planting sites.
a. Organized task force of local natural resources experts to plan and implement.
b. Obtained permission to apply Cedar Mulch on proposed road construction sites.
c. Obtained permission from neighbor to apply Cedar chips on new tree planting site.
d. Range Management Specialist, NRCS, conducted range plant inventory before Cedar trees were harvested and each year after to record plant community changes.
e. SD Foresters conducted tree inventory and computed wood volume for Cedar. Advised on selective harvesting, trees suitable for higher-value wood products, and wildfire fuel load potential.
f. Conservation Officer, SD Game, Fish and Parks, advised on wildlife habitat and recommended harvest methods to improve habitat quality for deer, turkey, and other game species.
g. District Conservationist, NRCS, and Conservation District Manager, advised on soils, hydrology and erosion concerns. Also involved in evaluation of Cedar chips on the tree planting site and Cedar mulch on the road construction sites.
h. County Highway Superintendent assisted in evaluation of Cedar mulch on road construction sites.
i. County Extension Educator assisted in organizing tours, workshops, and news releases.
j. Randall RC&D assisted in writing grant, researching information, organizing Information and Educational activities, and in finding additional funds.

Road Construction Sites:
1) Selected 3 road construction sites with County Highway Superintendent for evaluating Cedar mulch as soil cover. Compared Cedar mulch versus small grain straw for cost, effectiveness in protecting soil surface from raindrops, runoff water erosion, wind erosion, and grass stand establishment.
a. Different soil types: sandy loam, clay loam, and silty clay loam
b. Cedar mulch was created by hiring commercial grinder who used Morbark 1200. Reason for hiring commercial grinder rather than renting was: 1) availability, 2) time saving, 3) labor savings (lot of hand labor with small machines), and 4) commercial machine has different screen sizes so finished product could be varied and evaluated.
c. Road construction sites were seeded to a grass mixture after earthmoving was completed. Sandy loam site: each side of road had wheat straw at 2 ton/acre rate applied and anchored with Imco notched disc mulcher. West side had 1500 lb/acre cedar mulch applied with leased manure spreader. Hydraulic motor driven floor chain helped adjust for desired coverage. Manure spreader spread mulch evenly and quickly. Cost to lease the spreader was $100 per day.
d. The other 2 sites were smaller in size and straw was not used for comparison. These sites had steeper slopes and soils more susceptible to runoff erosion. At the Osnes site 2,000 lb/acre rate was used and at the Koerner site 2500 lb/acre was used. Clayey soils needed more protection from raindrop impact and we wanted to determine if the Cedar oil would hurt grass seedlings.
e. All 3 sites were visited by County Highway Superintendent, District Conservationist, Randall RC&D Coordinator, and myself during the first season and the second season to determine any erosion and grass establishment problems.

Tree Planting Site:
1) Contacted neighbor who intended to plant Farmstead Windbreak for permission to conduct this research project. This provided site close to home and “real world” evaluation.
2) The 4 rows of trees were planted by the Conservation District in May 1999. The plot was divided into 4 areas, each ¼ acre in size.
Area A: Cedar chips for erosion control, moisture conservation and weed control.
Area B: Mechanical cultivation for weed control
Area C: Herbicides applied for weed control
Area D: Fabric used on tree row and herbicides between the rows for weed control.

It is critical to establishment of young trees that weeds be controlled. Mechanical cultivation with tandem disc and weed badger used in the tree row; herbicides, such as pre-plant application of Treflan, and dormant season application of Princip; and fabric on the tree row are commonly used methods to control weeds in new tree plantings. These are costly but necessary to ensure establishment. Cedar chips have been successfully used in landscaping in urban areas, it should provide moisture conservation, soil erosion control, and weed suppression in a rural tree planting.
3) We decided to use Cedar chips rather than fibrous Cedar mulch because we felt the chips would settle and form a seal that would discourage weed germination and growth.
4) To create the Cedar chips without a large initial investment, an old silage cutter was rebuilt. Commercial chippers to rent or buy are not available in this area. To rebuild the silage cutter, the shear bar was relocated to the bottom of the cutting chamber. Bearings were replaced with much heavier duty bearings. Heavy plate steel was welded in key areas for reinforcement. A floating feed table was installed ahead of the cutting bar to allow for feeding different diameter trunks and limbs into the cutting chamber.
5) The chips were transported to the neighbor’s tree planting site in my farm truck. The truck was driven in between the rows with the box raised and slide gate open. Chips were spread at about 4-inch depth from tree row to tree row using grain shovels. This was a slow and labor intensive process. The ¼ acre site required 7 truck loads using a 16 ft long x 8 ft wide x 4 ft high truck box.
6) The site was evaluated in both the first and second seasons by District Conservationist, District Manager, and my self.

Harvesting Cedar Trees:
1) I had a shear built by a local machine shop that would work on my Ford bi-directional tractor. This sped up harvesting and greatly reduced dangerous and back breaking labor.
2) While waiting for the shear to be built, we did cut many Cedar trees down using chain saws. Cedar trees in this area have many limbs all the way to the soil surface. We needed to cut the trunk at or below the soil surface to make sure there were no limbs left that could continue to grow into a new tree. We wanted no stump lift to interfere with livestock and vehicles.
3) Trees were hauled by tractor loader to a flat area where limbs were removed. Some trunks were saved for fence posts. The limbs were stockpiled for later processing.
4) From this stockpile the limbs were hand fed into the silage cutter to create Cedar chips. Later when Cedar mulch was created the commercial grinder was parked alongside the pile. This allowed the use of its hydraulic lifting arm to place tree limbs directly into the grinding tub with minimum time and wasted motion.
5) To determine plant community changes after Cedar trees are removed we took several “before” pictures in 1999. Two 50 ft long transects were established with Range Management Specialist’s help and plants were inventoried each year. The ends of each transect were marked with a large painted disc blade.

- Leroy Smith, Project Administrator
- Janice Smith, wife, Financial Management
- Jake Feyereisen, hired hand, Labor
- Kerry Stiner, DC, NRCS, Technical Assistance
- Dave Steffen, RMS, NRCS, Technical Assistance
- Ted Braun, Mgr, Conservation District, Technical Assistance
- Ray Roggow, Co. Hwy Supt, Road Sites and Evaluation
- Mark Herberger, Brain Witt, and John Hinners, SD Foresters, Technical Assistance
- Dennis Lengkeek, SD GF&PKs, Technical Assistance
- Les Labahn, Randall RC&D, Technical Assistance
- Justin Keyser, CES, I&E Assistance
- Vern & Lowell Genzlinger, Tree Planting Site Owners

Cedar Mulch on Road Construction:
1) Cedar mulch remained on the slopes where it was applied. Experienced 2-inch-in-1-hour storms.
2) Cedar mulch did move where water flow concentrated. Additional conservation practices, such as anchored hay bales are needed to prevent erosion where runoff water concentrates in higher flows.
3) County Highway Superintendent commented “likes Cedar mulch because it does protect soil surface, doesn’t interfere with grass germination, and does not plant weed seeds (often a problem with small grain straw and grass hay). Also Cedar mulch is not affected by the wind as straw and hay are.”
4) The higher rate of 2500 lb/acre does more effective job than the 2000 and 1500 lb/acre rates.
5) Cost of Cedar mulch at 2500 lb/acre rate in this project cost a little more than hay or straw applied at 4000 lb/acre rate which is normally used.

Cedar Chips on New Tree Planting:
1) Cedar chips did give excellent soil moisture conservation as observed by increased growth of the trees where chips were used versus the other treatments which exposed the soil surface. In 1999 there was good Spring moisture but the summer turned dry.
2) Cedar chips did control soil erosion. Pictures were taken after a 2-inch-in-1-hour rain storm in 1999. No erosion occurred where chips were used. Severe erosion occurred on the mechanical cultivation site and herbicide only sites. The area where fabric and herbicide was used had little erosion but it was flattest potion of the tree planting site.
3) Cedar chips did suppress some weeds. This can be observed in the photo taken in May 2000 showing the large patch of penny cress dominant on the mechanical cultivation portion and only a few plants on the Cedar chips portion of the tree planting. Late summer 2000 several Kochia plants took advantage of the conserved moisture under the Cedar chips and grew quite large. These could have been easily controlled when young plants with spot spraying of herbicide.
4) Cedar chips for this project cost about $250 per acre (includes all labor, transportation, equipment, etc.). This is within a few dollars of the cost per acre for each of the other 3 treatments.
5) Some partners were disappointed that Cedar chips did not give 100% weed control. The weeds that did come could have been easily controlled with a few minutes times spot spraying with Roundup or other approved herbicide.

Rangeland Plant Recovery Where Cedars Were Removed:
1) Inventories done on the 2 transects indicate very positive recovery of desirable grass and forb species.
2) Additional Cedar control by Prescribed Burning or Mowing will be needed in 2 or 3 years because of several small seedlings that are growing where more mature trees were removed.
3) Wildlife Habitat for upland game species, songbirds, etc. has improved because of improving plant diversity and creating of more open areas.
4) Cost to remove Cedar will vary a great deal from site to site. More dense Cedar stands take more time. Steeper slopes hinder removal operations.
5) The shear was made so cutting blades overlapped slightly and cut cleanly. This helped prevent cutting blades from sticking in the wood and gave clean cuts without jagged protrusions which could puncture tires and/or injure livestock and wildlife.

It is economically difficult to remove the cedar to reclaim the grass in our Missouri River Hills pasture. The type of cedar we have is a low value product because it is not lumber quality and does not have a lot of heartwood. Since the heartwood contains the oil, which preserves the wood, it does not make very good posts nor is it feasible to extract the oil for a sellable product.

We are concentrating on wood shavings and mulch. The shavings are used for bedding for livestock. The bedding does not give a lot of return. By the time the trees are harvested and delimbed, and the trunks are shaved, dried, bagged and delivered as shavings, there is not a lot left for profit.

The mulch is made by grinding the branches and is then used for landscaping and for ground cover on roadsides of newly constructed roads. The bulk mulch does not have very high value. We are trying to package it either in a bag or a bale, which will increase the value of the product and give us a local market at stores in our area that sell landscaping material. Unlike straw mulch, cedar mulch on the road ditches is not spreading any weed seeds. Straw can often contain noxious weed seeds that can cause problems later on.

I have found that removing the cedar trees in a good environmental practice, because the type of cedars we have are more like a bush and therefore kill other vegetation under the tree. The only thing left under the tree are the cedar needles, and they wash away much easier than grass. Since our pastures have steep hills, there is a lot more erosion than there would be if there was grass growing on these places. Also the removal of the cedar trees will reduce the fire fuel load.

The control of cedar trees is also beneficial to wildlife. Birds eat the berries on the cedar trees, but to my knowledge, the cedar tree is not a food source for any other wildlife.
Removal of the cedar trees allow more grass to grow in these pastures and therefore the farmer can run more head per acre which means more money in the farmer’s pocket. More grass also means less erosion and less sediment to fill up our rivers and streams.

Additional Impacts noted:
1) Increased interest by neighbors and landowners from surrounding counties in use of Cedar.
2) Increased interest by area landowners and small businesses in marketing Cedar. Some are working closely with Niobrara Valley Wood Products Marketing Specialist.
3) Increased priority in Forestry Management assistance being provided by SD Department of Agriculture, Division of Resource Conservation & Forestry. A Forester position was established to serve south central South Dakota and work with landowners on the Cedar problem.
4) A Fuel Loads Reduction and Wood Products Marketing project was developed by Randall RC&D and SD Division of Resource Conservation & Forestry. This project is to encourage landowners to thin and remove trees to reduce wildfire potential and promote beneficial uses of the wood. This project will serve 10 SD counties and is being coordinated with a similar project in 6 NE counties.
5) A large scale wood inventory will be conducted by SD for the above 10 counties giving up to date information on volume of wood and wildfire potential.
6) More landowners are now considering “landscaping” by thinning and removal of Cedar and other trees to improve wildlife habitat, develop hiking and riding trails, and to increase attraction to their land for vacation ranch enterprises.
7) Data being collected from the range plant transects is of value to NRCS, Conservation Districts and others providing technical assistance to landowners.


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.