Value-Added Forestry Through a Cooperative

Project Overview

FNC04-500
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2004: $18,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $12,240.00
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: ornamentals

Practices

No practices identified

Proposal summary:

1. What is the objective of this project? Describe the problem your project will address.
The objective of this project is to balance ecological and environmental concerns in the management of timber and create a system that rewards non-industrial woodland owners who manage their operations in a sustainable manner. Over the past three years, the Prairie's Edge Sustainable Woods Cooperative in Northeast Iowa has systematically worked toward this goal. The activities proposed to be funded by the SARE grant are what will take the co-op to the next level and make it self-sustaining.

The overall problem being faced is that woodlands on farms have traditionally been thought of as a liability and not as valuable resources or a long-term investment. Northeast Iowa woods have been grazed, high-graded, cleared, and abused in a host of other ways that have contributed to soil loss, decreased water quality, and reduced wildlife habitat. Nonetheless, while the four counties in this corner of the state (Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, and Winneshiek) comprise only 5% of the total land area of Iowa, they represent 15% of the state's remaining forest cover. These woods are an ecological, aesthetic, economic, and community resource that must be managed sustainably.

Unfortunately, the non-industrial timber owner often feels at the mercy of a timber industry that at its worst has severly damaged the land while not returning value to the landowner and at best has left forests of low-grade trees reducing the future potential of the woods.

By refining the cooperative through the tasks described below and specifically through forest stewardship certification, the project will encourage and promote sustainable forest management and make such management profitable for the landowner.

2. Describe in detail how you would use this grant to address the problem.
In 2001, a small group of Northeast Iowa landowners incorporated the Prairie's Edge Sustainable Woods Cooperative with the mission "...to maximize the long-term aesthetic, ecological, and economic benefits from our woodlands by encouraging environmentally responsible forestry practices, and by cooperatively adding value to our forest products." In the three years since, and with the support of a previous SARE grant, Prairie's Edge has grown to 81 members and approximately 10,000 acres. Prairie's Edge completed a feasibility study and a market study and is in the process of finishing its business plan.

Even three years after its formation, however, Prairie's Edge, along with the handful of other Midwest forestry cooperatives, is in its fledgling state. The year 2003 saw the oldest and arguably the most successful forestry coop, the Sustainable Woods Cooperative of Spring Gree, Wisconsin, close its doors as a result of an unmanageable debt load and inconsistent cash flow. Prairie's Edge has avoided this situation by building a strong membershop and a professional board of directors through educational servides while methodoically moving thowd the goal of producting value-added forestry products.

We propose to accomplish three things with the grant:
a) Conduct inventories of members' timberland to determine in detail the amount and quality of timber resources we have;

b) Determine on a case-by-case basis the management services each member needs to maximize the ecological health and market value of their timber and to concurrently update each member's management plan; and

c) Move towards forest stewardship certification to differentiate Prairie's Edge timber products in the marketplace as certified sustainable.

3. How will you know if you have achieved what you wanted to do with this grant? How do you propose to evaluate the economic, environmental, and social impacts of your project?
We propose to evaluate the project as follows:
a) We will complete timber inventories and timber management assessments on 20 members' timberland each year for the next two years. These 40 inventories will equal approximately 50 percent of our members and acres represented. At the end of those two years, we believe we will be able to cash flow inventories on the remaining 50 percent. These inventories will be organized by a part-time coordinator. Teams of volunteers will assist in the inventories by conducting "quick cruises" of members' properties. Iowa Department of Natural Resources foresters will train the volunteers in quick cruise techniques and assist in a limited number of the inventories.

b) We will have approximately 40 of our members in the position (updated management plans, timber assessments complete, vand verifiable management practices in place) to be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. The Community Forestry Resource Center will assist and guide the co-op in the process of certification and specifically to establish umbrealla certification to minimize the cost per member to certify.

c) Through this process and with six educational sessions/field days annually, we will increate our membership to 100 or by approximately 25% (20 new members). The membershiop fees realized ($2,000) will immediately be rolled inot this project with the hope of expanding the number of inventories we can accomplish.

d) The inventories/assessments/updated management plans will lead to two successful value-added projects (cooperative timber sales, character wood sales, etc.) on a limited basis that will establish the cooperative in the marketplace while minimizing debt. These projects will be developed by the co-op's marketing committee with input from Coopertaive Development Services in Madison.

4. Why is the problem you are addressing in your project important to your farm and to other producers in your area and the North Central Region?
Sustainable forest management, defined both ecologically and economically, is a universal concertn throughout the Midwest. Enhancing the economic returns from farm woodlands can help diversify a farmer's operation. If a forestry cooperative based upon sustainble forest management can be shown to be successful and to brong better and more consistent economic returns to the landowner while improving the long-term health of the forest, then forest and forest owners and their communities throughout the region will be better off.

Timber can protect the most vulnerable of a farmer's land while at the same time resulting in a significant return on investment. The "cooperative" model that has been successfully applied to other agricultural products and servides and the "certification" model can, we believe, be successfully applied to timber management and sales. The demonstrated success of a timber cooperative would be a model for other such initiatives and cooperatiave throughout the region.

5. How will you share information from your project with other producers? (Each project must include an outreach component.)
The co-op holds six educational sessions each year including an annual membership meeting. Topics have included horse-ogging, timberframing, identification and control of evasive speicies, tree identification, growing shiitake mushrooms using logs from our forests, wildlife habitat, safe use of logging equipment, and cultivation of non-timber forest products such as medicinals and maple syrup to name a few. We distribute press releases to all press outlets in Northeast Iowa, inviting any interested party to attend these educational events, member and non-member alike. We hold our board meetings in conjuntction with these educational sessions and will provide an update on the SARE project at each meeting. Our goal for 2004 and 2005 is to have at least 25 people in addition to board members attend each educational session.

In addition, we will publish our progress with the SARE project in our quarterly newsletter. This newsletter is distributed to our members, to all press outlets in Northeast Iowa, to fores managemtn service providers, and to approximately 100 other woodland owners in Northeast Iowa. Many of our members are also members of organizations such as Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Farmers Union, and the Iowa Environmental Council. We will also share the progress of this project with those groups. Additionally, our "cooperators" will provide information about the project to their constituencies.

6. Describe your farm or ranch operation if you are submitting an individual proposal. If you are submitting a group proposal, describe your operation and provide names, addresses and a brief description of the other producer members of the group.
The K-Ranch comprises approximately 1,300 acres of permanent pasture and woodlands and includes 550 head of purely grass-fed beef cattle. Just as we view our maing crop to be high-quality pasture, we view our 420 acres of timber as a long-term investment with a terrific rate of return. And as we continuously work to improve our grassland, we are also constantly planting trees, doing timber stand improvement, and improving the health of our woodlands.

The co-op includes 81 members, half of which are tradtional agriculatural producers. Other board members include:
Ron Berns, farmer/woodland owner; 207 County Rd.; Monona, IA 52157
Garth Frable, city planner/ farmer/woodland owner; 13315 Iris Ave.; McGregor, IA 52157
Loyal Leitgen, retired co-op director/woodland owner; 28879 232nd St.; Garnavillo, IA 52048
Kevin Sand, woodland owner/physician; 1300 Big Sky Lane; Decorah, IA 52101
Chris Wyse, woodland owner/dentist; 706 Valley View Dr.; Decorah, IA 52101

7. List the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any cooperators. Include how they will participate or what they will contribute.
(a) Community Forestry Resource Center (Katie Fernholz); c/o Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; 2105 First Ave. S.; Minneapolis, MN 55404; (612) 870-3407. CFRC will assist us in the certification process and to ensure us that our inventories are being done in a way that will meet certification requirements. (b) Iowa Department of Natural Resources District Forester (Bruce Blair); PO Box 662; Elkader, IA 52043; (563) 245-1891. The District Foresters will continue to provide technical assistance and advice and direct us in the inventories. (c) Cooperative Development Services (E.G. Nadeau); 131 W. Wilson St., Suite 400; Madison, WI 53703; (608) 258-4393. CDS will provide input on development of the value-added projects.

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.