Development of Decision Support Systems for Improvement of Silvicultural Practices on Farm-Based Non-Industrial Private Forests
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 operate about 1.8% of the farmland acreage and 3.6% of all farms in North Carolina. However, in Georgia, African Americans 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 making 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. 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.