Development of Decision Support Systems for Improvement of Silvicultural Practices on Farm-Based Non-Industrial Private Forests

Final Report for LS98-091

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $26,204.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $18,995.00
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Fredrick Cubbage
Forestry Department, North Carolina State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project report consists of a literature review and focus group discussions with minority and limited income farmers, which will provide the necessary background for development of a decision aid system to assist farmers in managing forested lands in an economically and environmentally sound manner. This study will improve the definition of the problem, document baseline conditions and constraints to improved land management, and enhance understanding of the information sources used by farmers and the options available to them. The information generated will help guide subsequent developmental activities at the field sites, identifying potential remedial actions for overcoming constraints to incorporation of silvicultural practices, and a plan for tailoring activities in developmental research and outreach to address the needs within the field sites. Furthermore, results from this project report will provide the foundation for development of other proposals. Each of the three project objectives is discussed below.

(1) Assess attitudes and Values of Nonindustrial Private Forest (NIPF) Landowners Regarding the Adoption of Sustainable Forest Management Practices

The decision to invest or not invest in management is the crux of the debate over NIPF productivity, and much work has been done to study the reasons for landowner choices. Owners who are educated, have higher incomes and have larger land holdings have been generally found to invest in their woodlands. The availability of technical assistance, and its sources also play a role. While higher income persons have been found to undertake forestry investments that are likely to earn reasonably good returns, individuals with low incomes have also been found to intensify forest management if the returns are substantially higher. Evidence that landowners are responsive to price or regulation is inconclusive. Some reasons that deter investment in timber by NIPF landowners are (i) preference for non-timber outputs, (ii) low potential return on timber (iii) lack of information on markets, price and technology (iv) small size of many holdings (v) short tenure (vi) advanced age of many NIPF owners, and (vii) capital gains and estate taxes. The reasons that favor investment in timber are the obverse of perceived deterrents which include: availability of technical assistance; advice of a professional forester; strong markets for the products; favorable tax treatments such as reduced inheritance and estate taxes and reforestation tax incentive; and availability of government programs such as Agricultural Conservation Program (ACP), Conservation Reserve Program (Soil Bank), Forestry Incentives Program (FIP) etc that provide incentives to landowners for the management of forested acres.

(2) Evaluate the Roles of Forested Lands in Limited-Resource Farming Systems, and the Ways to Increases Forest Production and Farmer Well-Being

Particular attention has been focused on African American farms in recent decades because this group experienced a rapid decline in the number of farms. Minority farms in the U.S. declined about 91% during 1954 to 87, compared to a decline of 51% of white-owned farms (Dismukes et al. 1997). In North Carolina, there has been a 64% decline in minority farmers over a 15 year period with 6,996 farms in 1978 to 2,498 farms in 1992. There are 8.9 million acres of farm land and 51,800 farms in North Carolina of which 21% are small farms. Georgia has 10 million acres of farm land and 40,800 thousand farms of which 19.1% are small farms. African Americans Blacks operate about 1.8% of the farmland acreage and 3.6% of all farms in North Carolina. However, in Georgia, Blacks operate about 1.7% of the farmland acreage and 2.6% of all farms.

Reasons cited for the decline in the number of minority and limited resource farmers include among other things, small farm sizes causing access to credit difficult, under-participation in government programs, decline of farming in general such as globalization of commerce, economies of scale, limited access to capital, and technological advances. Migration of younger people from the farm to the urban areas, differences between small and large farms in terms of their income generating strategies, household income, racial make-up, and geographic location are also cited as other reasons. Minority farmers tend to be relatively older with limited knowledge of modern technological advancement.

A few studies have addressed the reasons for the success of some black owned farms with limited resources. Different reasons indicated for the success include good management practices, knowledge and early adoption of new technology, a strong work ethic, love of farming, size of operation, participation in government programs, strong family support, a high degree of participation in the off-farm workforce both by the farmer and other family members, writing a will to keep land within the family, and education through extension programs.

Qualitative and quantitative data were gathered to assess attitudes and values of farm-based nonindustrial private forest owners, characterize economic and informational constraints and opportunities for improved forest management by these individuals, and evaluate the role of forested lands in limited-resource farming.

A total of 72 completed surveys from the participants at the Southern Landowner Outreach Conference were analyzed. About 90.1% of the total respondents owned farmland, 80% had part of their land forested and 13% had no forest land. About one third had more than 100 acres of forest land, and 55 % had less than 100 acres. Of a total of 74.6% respondents, 56.3% had harvested timber, 49.3% of a total 66.2% respondents had done selective cutting, 33.8% of a total 52.1% respondents had clearcut. Silvicultural improvements such as thinning, fertilizer application, prescribed fire, and herbicide application were undertaken on their land. In addition, the respondents also indicated that they had plans of conducting various silvicultural activities on their lands in the future. Planting trees and marking the boundaries was also undertaken. Individuals had hunted and hiked on their lands.

Their predominant source of forestry information is the extension service and the State Forest Service. They considered the information provided by them to be generally good. Other sources of forestry information were, other agencies, consultants, forestry professional, and other landowners. More attention to their needs from the state forestry agencies and central cooperative extension specialists was desired.

Focus group meetings were held in the town of Tillery, Halifax county in North Carolina., and surveys were also administered to the participants of the “Small and Beginning Farmers Workshop” in Tifton, Georgia. Subsequently a meeting with these landowners was also organized. A total of 21 completed surveys were analyzed and the questions were similar to the Southern Landowner Outreach Conference survey. Landowners gathered forestry information mainly from the extension service, other landowners, State Forest Service and consultants. Their preference for forestry information that will be useful to them were: wildlife management, forest management, taxation and estate management, government programs available, and, soil conservation and water quality. The need for information on timber harvesting, timber marketing, regulations, and others were relatively lower.

(3) Build a Network of Participants, Including Limited-Resource Farmers, Extension and Outreach Personnel, and Academic researchers

We fulfilled our third objective in developing a network of participants by working in close association with limited-resource farmers, extension and outreach professionals, and academic researchers. Collective expertise of this network helped a subset of Co-Principal Investigators to prepare a related proposal for the 1999 and 2000 SARE funding cycle. Preparations are underway for a full proposal if the 2000 pre-proposal is accepted.

Project Objectives:

The principal objective of this study is to provide an improved understanding of the context of silviculture on limited-resource farms that will help develop a decision aid system to help farmers manage their forest lands efficiently. This overall objective has three components:

1. Assess attitudes and values of NIPF owners, including both market and nonmarket benefits, as well as informational and economic constraints to the adoption of sustainable forest management. While our main focus will be on limited-resource farmers, other farmers will be included in the analysis to elucidate the constraints characterizing limited-resource farmers as a group.

2. Evaluate the roles of forested lands in limited-resource farming systems, and identify ways to improve forest production and farmer well-being through incorporation of appropriate silvicultural practices.

3. Build a network of participants with strong informational connections, including limited-resource farmers, extension and outreach professionals, and academic researchers. Use the collective expertise of this network, and the information gained in components 1 and 2, to develop an integrated systems proposal for the 1999 SARE funding cycle. The integrated systems proposal will include development and technology transfer for a decision support system for forest management on limited-resource farms.

Introduction:

Nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) landowners hold approximately 70% of the forested land base in the southern United States (USDA 1995). Farmers control 28% of this nonindustrial acreage, an amount equivalent to the area owned by forest industry in the region. Many of these farmers can be characterized as limited-resource farmers, with restricted access to capital, labor, or information, and operating on a relatively small scale, which poses challenges for traditional forestry operations and perspectives. Since nonindustrial private forest landowners and limited-resource farmers own a significant fraction of the forestland in the southeastern U.S, projected increases in timber harvest on these lands simultaneously present opportunities for economic benefits and challenges for sustainable production. Forests have the potential for playing an increasing role in the economic well-being of limited-resource farmers. However, if regional patterns of opportunistic rather than planned harvesting continue, and if failure to attend to regeneration and stand growth remains the norm rather than the exception, increased harvesting rates will lead to the degradation of the economic and environmental values represented by farm woodlots.

Farm-based NIPF owners are characterized by a diversity of objectives, including but not limited to wildlife habitat conservation, aesthetics, production of timber and agricultural products, financial and investment objectives, and land ownership as an end in itself. Of these, timber production is often ranked low, but has the capability of improving the others or providing the economic means to make them possible. However, farmers often lack the information base for informed silvicultural decisions, which can result in choices which are damaging to the environment and/or economically suboptimal (Henry and Bliss 1994). Moreover, farm-based NIPF owners often face severe cash flow constraints and, consequently, are reluctant to consider long-term investments in forest management without reasonable assurance of adequate economic returns. Despite these barriers to what have traditionally been considered sound forest management strategies, harvests of softwood and hardwood timber from all nonindustrial ownerships in the South are projected to increase to 30% to 60% over their 1986 levels by 2010 (USDA 1995).

Changes in management of farm woodlots necessary to realize increased harvest levels will provide both opportunities and challenges. Sound forest management offers significant potential to enhance the economic productivity and well-being of small farmers, as well as provide environmental benefits. For example, it has been estimated that over 22 million acres of marginal crop and pastureland would provide greater return on investment if converted to pine plantations and that conversion of over 8 million acres of highly erodible cropland to pine plantations would have positive effects both on local economies and on soil and water quality (USDA 1988). These figures do not consider the additional increases realized with incorporation of appropriate silvicultural practices such as species/genotype selection, site preparation, fertilization, control of competing vegetation, or stocking control. Because forests are extremely effective at retaining nutrients, forested lands may represent an attractive possibility for land-spreading of animal wastes and other residues, turning a potential liability into a positive investment. At the same time, the prospect of increased harvest without improved management raises serious questions about sustainability. To understand fully the potential role of forests in improving the economic situation of farmers and the environmental quality of agricultural land, as well as what steps might be taken to increase that role, we must identify the role of forested land within the farm as a system. We hypothesize that much of the traditional difficulty in convincing farmers to adopt conventional silvicultural practices results from a failure to understand the problem definition of forest management from the farmer’s perspective. By including farmers directly in the planning process, we expect to improve both problem definition and potential solutions (Chambers et al. 1989).

This project report consists mostly of a literature review and focus group discussions with minority and limited income farmers, which will provide the necessary background for development of a decision aid system to assist farmers in managing forested lands in an economically and environmentally sound manner. This study will improve the definition of the problem, document baseline conditions and constraints to improved land management, and enhance understanding of the information sources used by farmers and the options available to them. The information generated will help guide subsequent developmental activities at the field sites, identifying potential remedial actions for overcoming constraints to incorporation of silvicultural practices, and a plan for tailoring activities in developmental research and outreach to address the needs within the field sites. Furthermore, results from this project report will provide the foundation for development of other proposals.

Research

Materials and methods:

Approach

This project was a planning grant to develop more detailed proposals for “Development of Decision Support Systems for Improvement of Silvicultural Practices on Farm-Based Nonindustrial Private Forests of the Southeastern United States.” The broad purpose of this project was to develop a knowledge base for developing detailed proposals for research and extension efforts to enhance forest management and rural development on nonindustrial private forests (NIPFs) in the southern United States, especially for limited resource and minority farmers. A detailed literature review of the factors that influence NIPF landowner decisions comprised a major part of the planning grant. This literature review was drawn from concurrent work by Snider and Cubbage (2000), and expanded with a focus on limited resource and minority forest landowners. The balance of the project consisted of focus and discussion group meetings with minority landowners, and surveys of selected owners in North Carolina and Georgia. These contact meetings provided input about opinions of limited resource farmers regarding forest management, and helped develop a network of landowner, agency, and researcher contacts for future proposals.

Project activities were conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the natural resource and social science disciplines from NC State University, NC Agricultural and Technical State University, and the University of Georgia. Field sites selected (Georgia and North Carolina) represent regional differences in physiography and social/political factors. In addition to identifying potential practices and resources, additional effort during the field visits was directed toward eliciting their perceptions of the non-market benefits derived from farm forests, and identifying silvicultural options to increase those benefits.

Focus groups at the field sites were used to elicit information from farm-based NIPF owners and on-site visits were used to assess biophysical and economic resources available to farmers and their possible use in silvicultural systems. Participants in focus groups and field visits were identified with the assistance of the Georgia and North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, and other limited-resource farmers. Some use of a “snowball approach,” in which contacts serve to identify other limited-resource farmers, was used to ensure a broad range of participants.

The intent of the focus groups is to develop a broad and deep understanding of attitudes, perceptions and behaviors related to the management of privately-held forest lands. This information is essential to development of an integrated systems proposal. The results provide a richer understanding of what is needed by clientele, what program responses they might find appealing or appropriate, and what programs make a difference. Focus groups help identify needs because they give landowners a chance to describe their true interests. We believe that the success of decision support tools and training programs to be developed later will be enhanced by focus group outcomes as attention will be concentrated on efforts most likely to be adopted. In addition, the focus groups will be a part of ongoing evaluations. Following the development of programs, we could go back to the focus groups and evaluate the result of our actions.

The format for the focus group interviews was small group discussion (typically involving 8 to 12 persons). Answers to questions were elicited using an informal interview procedure. Our theoretical perspective for asking questions begins by utilizing elements of the diffusion paradigm (Brown 1981, Rogers 1983), which presumes forest landowners and growers are economically motivated. It also assumes that adoption behavior is primarily a function of exposure to information (e.g., mass media, personal contacts, business contacts, participation in formal organizations, and/or formal education) that allows the potential adopter to become aware of new action alternatives. The diffusion paradigm hypothesizes that exposure to new ideas, technologies or techniques follows a predictable mental process (awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption). As the individual moves through this process, favorable attitudes develop toward the object to be adopted. Once these favorable attitudes form, adoption follows.

Our attention initially was directed toward the early phases of the decision process in an attempt to identify the factors that influence NIPF owner awareness and interest in learning more about appropriate silvicultural practices. The diffusion model asserts that certain types of factors will influence the adoption process. For example, the amount of exposure to new ideas (attendance at meetings) will affect the process, certain individual characteristics (age, education), influence how much and to what kind of information the person is exposed, while the attributes of the innovation (compatibility with current farming system, trial ability and ease of demonstration, complexity, etc.), will affect how the innovation is received.

An alternative theoretical paradigm, the economic constraint model, assumes that individuals cannot adopt new technologies or techniques because they do not have the economic resources to realize what they desire (Flora and Rodefeld,1978, Flinn and Buttle, 1980). Recommended silvicultural practices may be complex innovations and some growers may perceive them to be too risky and expensive relative to potential returns. Thus, economic constraints may be a major factor. These constraints aside, some farm characteristics (size, number and types of commodities or number of farm workers) may serve to facilitate the process, while others may inhibit it. The identification of these factors can help in the design of educational programs.

Background

Increased demand for forest products in a globalizing economy, rising real prices for many types of sawtimber and fiber, and changes in patterns of regional supply all indicate that harvests of softwoods and hardwoods from NIPF lands will increase over the next several decades (USDA 1988, 1995). Given the magnitude and scale of these continuing economic changes, some increase in harvest is inevitable. However, it is far from inevitable that those increases will occur in a fashion which improves rather than degrades the economic and environmental sustainability of farm forestry in the Southeast. Furthermore, depending on actual management practices, these changes may or may not benefit limited-resource farmers. If change is to be positive rather than negative, we must not only improve our understanding of the goals and needs of limited-resource farmers, but we must also design decision support systems acceptable to them and technologically relevant to the management of their lands. To be successful, we must frame the problem in the systems context of the limited-resource farm, with specific attention to landowner motivations and constraints.

Considerable surveying effort has been directed toward classifying NIPF owners according to a set of social and economic descriptors, and exploring correlative relationships with specific sets of management practices (South et al. 1965, Somberg 1971, Holemo and Brown 1975, Green and Blatner 1986, Royer 1987, Rosen et al. 1989). While NIPF owners are a diverse group, some results have been consistent across studies:

∙ Nonindustrial private forest owners own land for a broad range of purposes; in fact, financial or commodity objectives are dominant for a minority of those landowners. For example, McNabb and Bliss (1994) found that commodity objectives (e.g., timber production, investment, grazing, and firewood harvest) were the primary benefits for only 36% of NIPF owners in Alabama, while noncommodity benefits (e.g., retention of land within the family, aesthetics, recreation and hunting) were the primary benefits for almost 60%.

∙ Relatively few NIPF owners in the South engage forestry professionals to assist in their woodlot management. One study found that less than one-fourth of all NIPF owners in Alabama had a written management plan for their forested lands (McNabb and Bliss 1994) and that less than 40% used a professional forester when preparing or marketing a timber sale (Royer and Kaiser 1985, McNabb and Bliss 1994). Nonindustrial private forest owners are far more likely to receive forestry information from their peers or from the popular press than from consulting or extension foresters, while researchers and field foresters tend to communicate among themselves (Marsinko et al. 1988, West et al. 1988, Baldwin and Haymond 1994). However, NIPF owners are often open-minded about both financially and environmentally-driven forest practices (McNabb and Bliss 1994, Brunson et al. 1996).

∙ While some NIPF owners are well-informed about forest management or forest practices, many are not. For example, on a series of 10 true-false questions related to forest management, NIPF owners in Alabama averaged 5.4 correct answers (McNabb and Bliss 1994). Rightly or wrongly, assessments by researchers of the knowledge and attitudes of NIPF owners toward forest practices are often heavily value-laden and constrained by the traditional timber- and market-oriented values of the forestry profession.

Despite the abundance of survey data, the objectives and values of NIPF owners, particulary limited-resource farmers, remain poorly understood (Bliss and Martin 1988, 1989; Jones et al. 1995). Although utility for most NIPF owners has important non-market components (e.g., Hyberg and Holthausen 1989), most forest management textbooks emphasize timber management and financially-driven management decisions. Furthermore, management planning is often simplified in capstone courses. As a result, forestry students often have inadequate exposure to multiple objective management and nontimber goals, as well as poorly defined information and objectives concerning these issues (Straka 1993). The forestry profession will need improved tools and teaching techniques to meet the challenges presented by NIPF lands.

If new tools are needed, what sort are appropriate? Although it is tempting to jump directly into a hard systems analysis, we feel it is critically important to conduct a soft systems analysis first, to identify decision support technologies which are conceptually adequate, technologically appropriate, and adoptable. It would be premature to identify a specific decision support technology without understanding the needs, motivations, and problem definition from the end-users’ perspective. We can, however, tentatively identify some promising classes of approaches. For example, while much decision support in forestry has concentrated on the traditional tools of operations research, including linear and dynamic programming (Dykstra 1984), these tools are computationally demanding and data intensive. Furthermore, a traditional single-objective approach, in which all benefits are collapsed into a single utility function, is unlikely to be appropriate when evaluating the objectives of a farm family (Ducey et al., in press).

A multiobjective approach (Cohon 1978) may be more appropriate. Other desirable features include the ability for simple translation of mathematical results into natural languages, features shared by some fuzzy set methods (e.g. Ducey and Larson, in press) as well as approaches to uncertainty which have developed within the artificial intelligence community (Shafer and Pearl 1990). Where expertise is available to guide elicitation of goals and evaluation of alternatives, multicriteria methods such as Saaty’s (1980) Analytical Hierarchy Process may be suitable. However, we suspect that matrix evaluation methods (e.g. Crosby and Barrett 1988, Ducey and Larson in press), perhaps aided with a spreadsheet interface, may be preferable because of their computational simplicity. The ultimate choice of method must be able to address the end users’ decisions in a conceptually appropriate manner, using appropriate and available technology, and in a fashion which is acceptable and adaptable. The planning and baseline activities generate quantitative and qualitative data useful for both evaluative and developmental purposes (Kumar 1987, Davis-Case 1989, Valadez 1994). The preliminary qualitative and quantitative work which we present in this project report is a necessary first step in the identification process.

Research results and discussion:

This project report consists of a literature review, focus group discussions, and surveys with minority and limited income farmers. It provides the necessary background for development of a decision aid system to assist farmers in managing forested lands in an economically and environmentally sound manner. The three objectives that the study addresses are:

1. Attitudes and values of NIPF owners, including both market and non-market benefits, as well as informational and economic constraints to the adoption of sustainable forest management. Limited-resource farmers are the focus of the analysis along with other farmers.

2. Roles of forested lands in limited-resource farming systems, and ways to improve forest production and farmer well-being through incorporation of appropriate silvicultural practices are evaluated .

3. Network of participants with strong informational connections, including limited-resource farmers, extension and outreach professionals, and academic researchers is developed. Collective expertise of this network, along with the information gained in components 1 and 2, was used to develop an integrated systems proposal for the 1999 and 2000 SARE funding cycles.

Three-fourths of the forests in the South are NIPFs. There are an estimated 4.9 million private forest-land ownership units that hold 188 million acres (approximately 48% of the nation’s total) of private forest land in the South. The ownership units have increased by 38% and the acreage of privately held forest land has increased by 22% in the region between 1978 and 1994. About 76% of the forestland in North Carolina is owned by NIPFs. As of 1994, North Carolina and Georgia have 705,000 and 611,000 private landowners who collectively hold 17 million and 22 million acres respectively. These two states combined represent 26.6% of the total landowners and 20.7% of the acreage of forest land in the South (Birch 1996). About two-thirds of private forest landowners hold tracts of less than 10 acres while three-fourths own less than 20 acres. This causes concern about fragmentation and rapid turnover of land. As fragmentation occurs, landowners are investing in properties which are not part of their residences. This increase in absentee ownership has implications for harvesting and reforestation behavior. For example, short tenure of property holdings can result in decline in the probability of reforestation. Among various silvicultural treatments that are used to manage forestlands such as, thinning, control of competition, occasional burning, etc, reforestation has been found to have a greater impact on future timber supplies.

The characteristics of owners vary and they have different reasons for owning and managing their lands. Their objectives include timber production, recreation/wildlife, grazing, preservation etc based on their motivations (financial return, investment, aesthetics, residence and social responsibility) and constraints (market, personal, resource and societal). Based on the owner’s objectives, motivations and constraints, they have been classified into one of four basic management types: timber agriculturist, timber conservationist, forest environmentalist, and range pragmatist.

About 38% of the private forest owners in the South listed residence as their main reason for owning forestland. Eight percent cited farm or domestic use, 16% cited recreation or aesthetics and investment was listed by 12% as their first consideration. Only 4% listed timber production as their main reason for owning forestland. On an area basis, timber production was the most important reason for ownership 35% of the time and land investment was second with 14% (Moulton and Birch 1995). Other studies also yielded similar reasons for owning and managing land.

Two landowner objectives that have been studied more closely are, plans to harvest timber and intent to sell property in the future. Thirty-two percent of private forest landowners state that they intend to harvest in the next 10 years. These owners control 63% of the private forest. Conversely, 34% of the owners say they never intend to harvest. They hold only 12% of the private acreage. Owners with indefinite harvest plans control 23% of the private forest land (Birch 1996). In a study of southern NIPF lands which had been harvested in the past decade, only 5% of the acres were being considered for sale to non family members within the next 5 years, while 86% of the harvested land was held by owners with no intentions to sell” (Fecso et al. 1982).

The decision to invest or not invest in management is the crux of the debate over NIPF productivity, and much work has been done to study the reasons for landowner choices. Owners who are educated, have higher incomes and have larger land holdings have been generally found to invest in their woodlands. The availability of technical assistance, and its sources also play a role. While higher income persons have been found to undertake forestry investments that are likely to earn reasonably good returns, individuals with low incomes have also been found to intensify forest management if the returns are substantially higher. Evidence that landowners are responsive to price or regulation is inconclusive. Some reasons that deter investment in timber by NIPF landowners are (i) preference for non-timber outputs, (ii) low potential return on timber (iii) lack of information on markets, price and technology (iv) small size of many holdings (v) short tenure (vi) advanced age of many NIPF owners, and (vii) capital gains and estate taxes. The reasons that favor investment in timber are the obverse of perceived deterrents which include: availability of technical assistance; advice of a professional forester; strong markets for the products; favorable tax treatments such as reduced inheritance and estate taxes and reforestation tax incentive; and availability of government programs such as Agricultural Conservation Program (ACP), Conservation Reserve Program (Soil Bank), Forestry Incentives Program (FIP) etc that provide incentives to landowners for the management of forested acres.

Before 1930s reforestation effort by NIPFs was very limited. Reforestation efforts have improved since then. There has been a significant rise in planting effort since the early 1980s with the development and expansion of government planting incentives such as cost-share programs, reforestation tax credits and forest management assistance programs. Most of this accelerated planting has occurred in the South. Deterrents to reforestation are: Higher replanting costs and interest rates; longer time interval involved to realize return on the cost; a skepticism about the eventual return; bureaucracy involved in attaining cost share funds from government programs; increased age and plans to sell property; and a general lack of consensus on the means of reforestation. Higher timber prices, awareness and access to cost sharing funds for reforestation, larger tract size, assistance from professional foresters, higher income, availability of technical assistance etc favor the decision to reforest. Landowner characteristics in terms of their goals and objectives also play an important role in the reforestation behavior.

Owners of 78% of the private forestland acreage in the South have harvested timber from their lands, and owners of 60% of the land plan to harvest timber within the next 10 years. The reasons cited for harvesting are maturity of timber, higher stumpage price, a need for money, a desire to improve the stand, and the landowner being a resident landowner. The deterrents to harvesting include, among other things, landowner objectives and goals, smaller sized tracts, higher harvesting costs, inability to find loggers to landowner’s satisfaction, lower timber prices, and the landowner being an absentee owner.

Forecasts indicate timber harvest increases in the future, especially in the South, mostly on NIPF lands. Research has shown that rising prices may provide incentives for NIPF landowners to harvest. However, rising prices has little effect on increasing management of forests. NIPF owners are reforesting far fewer acres than industry. Also, there is a general lack of investment in timber management among them, increasing environmental constraints, increasing urbanization, fragmentation and short tenures which will curtail their ability to meet future demands.

In order to understand the role of forested lands in limited-resource farming systems, an analysis of the limited resource farmers was undertaken. Limited resource farmers are farm operators having less than $20,000 in income from all sources in the previous two years. In 1992, there were about 185,000 (8.9%) limited-opportunity farm households in the U.S. (out of 2.1 million total farms) with about 60% of them in the South (Dismuke et al. 1997). The average size of a limited-opportunity farm is 77 acres compared to 449 acres for a farm operator household. Income from off-farm sources is higher for both, the limited-opportunity farm households and all farm households of $8,682 and $35,731 respectively. However, for limited-opportunity farm households, the share of farm income is10.2% of total household income compared to 16.2% for all farm households. Limited-opportunity farm operators, in contrast with operators from all farm operator households, are older and have less formal education.

Generally socially disadvantaged groups like women, African Americans, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives (Native Americans), Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics have limited financial resources. A large share of the gross cash farm income comes from livestock production in the farms operated by members of socially disadvantaged groups and limited-opportunity households. In comparison to other farmers, limited resource farmers are less likely to have harvested a contract crop (program crop). Almost none of these farmers purchase crop insurance.

There are 8.9 million acres of farm land and 51,800 farms in North Carolina of which 21% are small farms. Georgia has 10 million acres of farm land and 40,800 thousand farms of which 19.1% are small farms. Blacks operate about 1.8% of the farmland acreage and 3.6% of all farms in North Carolina. However, in Georgia Blacks operate about 1.7% of the farmland acreage and 2.6% of all farms.

Particular attention has been focused on black operated farms in recent decades because this group experienced a rapid decline in the number of farms. Minority farms in the U.S. declined about 91% during 1954-87, compared to a decline of 51% of white-owned farms (Dismukes et al. 1997). In North Carolina, there has been a 64% decline in minority farmers over a 15 year period with 6,996 farms in 1978 to 2,498 farms in 1992. Reasons cited for the decline in the number of minority and limited resource farmers include among other things, small farm sizes causing access to credit difficult, under-participation in government programs, decline of farming in general such as globalization of commerce, economies of scale, limited access to capital, and technological advances. Migration of younger people from the farm to the urban areas, differences between small and large farms in terms of their income generating strategies, household income, racial make-up, and geographic location are also cited as other reasons. Minority farmers tend to be relatively older with limited knowledge of modern technological advancement.

A few studies have addressed the reasons for the success of some black owned farms with limited resources. Different reasons indicated for the success include good management practices, knowledge and early adoption of new technology, a strong work ethic, love of farming, size of operation, participation in government programs, strong family support, a high degree of participation in the off-farm workforce both by the farmer and other family members, writing a will to keep land within the family, and education through extension programs.

None of the universities in the South addressed forestry problems until the mid 1970s and there were no forestry degree program being offered. Today, there are a number of Universities including a few historically black Universities offering forestry degrees. The outreach efforts of the U.S.D.A Forest Service’s outreach program in the Southern region started in the mid-1970s because their records indicated that black and other minority landowners in the South, and other parts of the U.S., had low participation in programs offered by Federal/State agencies to help citizens manage their forest land holdings. Few landowners in general, and even lesser black landowners, were taking advantage of USDA funded forestry programs. The purpose was to identify minority, but more specifically black woodland owners in the South, inform them of the Federal/State forestry programs and encourage their participation. The outreach efforts have grown since then and minority participation has improved.

In order to fulfill our second objective, we gathered public input from minority farmers at regional meetings and from focus groups at two field sites–one in Georgia and one in North Carolina. We also collected informal survey information about forestry practices from limited income and minority farm landowners who attended the Southern Landowner Outreach Conference in Birmingham, AL and from a different set of farm landowners at a similar conference in Tifton, GA. We also had a focus group meeting with many minority farm landowners in Tillery, North Carolina, and visited separately with some landowners at the conference in Tifton, Georgia.

Qualitative and quantitative data was gathered to assess attitudes and values of farm-based nonindustrial private forest owners, characterize economic and informational constraints and opportunities for improved forest management by these individuals, and evaluate the role of forested lands in limited-resource farming.

A total of 72 completed surveys from the participants at the Southern Landowner Outreach Conference were analyzed. About 90.1% of the total respondents owned farmland, 80% had part of their land forested and 13% had no forest land. About one third had more than 100 acres of forest land, and 55 % had less than 100 acres. Of a total of 74.6% respondents, 56.3% had harvested timber, 49.3% of a total 66.2% respondents had done selective cutting, 33.8% of a total 52.1% respondents had clearcut. Silvicultural improvements such as thinning, fertilizer application, prescribed fire, and herbicide application were undertaken on their land. In addition, the respondents also indicated that they had plans of conducting various silvicultural activities on their lands in the future. Planting trees and marking the boundaries was also undertaken. Individuals had hunted and hiked on their lands.

Their predominant source of forestry information is the extension service and the State Forest Service. They considered the information provided by them to be generally good. Other sources of forestry information were, other agencies, consultants, forestry professional, and other landowners.

The first focus group meeting was held in the town of Tillery, Halifax county in North Carolina. Halifax county was chosen because it has a higher proportion of minority landowners, farm acreage, and forest land ownership. These characteristics make it an ideal place to target the outreach efforts for integration of agriculture and forestry to achieve increased forest productivity. The estimated population of Halifax county as of 1998 is 56,433 of which 46.84% is white and 49.69% is black. Halifax county has 463,162 acres of land of which 281,927 acres is forest land (60.8%).

Surveys were also administered to the participants of the “Small and Beginning Farmers Workshop” in Tifton , Georgia. Subsequently a meeting with these landowners was also organized. A total of 21 completed surveys were analyzed and the questions were similar to the Southern Landowner Outreach Conference survey. About 86% of the total respondents owned land while the remaining 14% did not. Among those who owned land, 33% had at least 1/2- 3/4 of the land forested. The land that was not forested was used essentially for farming but it was also used as pasture land and for other purposes. They gathered forestry information mainly from the extension service, other landowners, State Forest Service and consultants. Their preference for forestry information that will be useful to them were: wildlife management, forest management, taxation and estate management, government programs available, and, soil conservation and water quality. The need for information on timber harvesting, timber marketing, regulations, and others were relatively lower. 39% had more than 100 acres of forest land, and 28% had 10 acres or less. About 16.7% had a written forest management plan. In the past,16.7% of the respondents had harvested timber. A selective cut was performed by 27.8% of the respondents, 22.2% had clearcut and 11.1% had done thinning. Silvicultural improvements such as fertilizer application, herbicide application, and prescribed fire were also used on their land and 83% indicated that they will undertake silvicultural activities on their forest lands in the near future. Within the past 20 years, 44.4% had planted trees and 44.4% had marked boundaries on their forest land. Hunting and hiking were popular recreational uses of their forest land.

We fulfilled our third objective in developing a network of participants by working in close association with limited-resource farmers, extension and outreach professionals, and academic researchers. Collective expertise of this network helped a subset of Co-Principal Investigators to prepare a related proposal for the 1999 and 2000 SARE funding cycle. Preparations are underway for a full proposal if the 2000 pre-proposal is accepted.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

No publications have resulted from this planning grant yet. We will seek outlets for the detailed literature review and the results of the focus groups.

Similarly, we have not performed any specific extension and outreach efforts to date. The project also provides information for such efforts.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impact of the Results and Potential Contribution
While this study indicates that NIPF ownership and acreage in the South is increasing, potential certainly exists for improved forest management on these lands by making informed silvicultural decisions to further improve productivity. Though the owner characteristics and management considerations vary, technical assistance through outreach efforts will help motivate the landowners in undertaking sustainable management of their forest lands. Small farmers and forest owners with limited financial resources should be encouraged by giving support, both technical and financial, which will help minimize the decline in minority ownership of farmland. There remains a potential to increase the proportion of forest land in relation to the total land ownership. However, this cannot be done without an active involvement from the different players. By undertaking judicial silvicultural practices on their land with the help of extension and outreach professionals, and academicians, these landowners can diversify their source of income and manage for a better future. We need to identify additional information from farmers, extension agents, land use planners, and forest industry personnel that will contribute to filling existing knowledge gaps critical to the sustainable management of forests.

Quantitative indicators taken during baseline assessments, including both focus groups and field visits, will serve as a point of reference for evaluation of future changes induced through project action. Discussions with farmers, and extension agents have elicited qualitative data useful to developing a fuller appreciation of the contextual factors influencing current land use practices. Analyses of these data has provided descriptors of current conditions, constraints, risk factors, and opportunities for improved forest management in the South. This study also reveals the variance in management practices and opportunities, and indicates relationships with physiography as well as social and political factors.

EVALUATION

A. Objectives

As noted in the abstract, we achieved the objectives of this planing grant well. The objectives remained the same throughout the project, although our personnel and projects did change somewhat.

B. Problems

As suggested above, changes in personnel caused us to change the approach to achieve our objectives. Both of the main PIs left North Carolina State University, and P.B. Aruna and Fred Cubbage assumed the duties as the principal Co-PIs in pulling together the literature reviews, coordinating the focus and discussion group meetings, and developing surveys that could be conducted on site at the focus group/discussion meetings. The other Co-PIs continued as planned, and were excellent at providing the appropriate extension and minority landowners to cooperate with, and leading the efforts in the actual discussions. The change in primary PIs did change our approach to more discussions with minority landowners at existing meetings, and less on-farm visits.

C. SARE

The SARE grant administrators were very helpful and well organized. They were among the best administrators of grants we have seen to date. They were helpful, provided good information, flexible in face of changes, and provided good prompts and assistance in preparing necessary reports. Thanks.

Economic Analysis

Cooperative Efforts

We cooperated with a host of public agency personnel and limited income farmers in preparing this planning document. These include USDA Forest Service personnel, county extension agents, limited income farmers in North carolina and Georgia, and others. These contacts have provided the basis for more detailed proposals for specific studies, which have been submitted by some of the co-investigators of this project.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

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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.