By Karol B. Osborne
The 32nd annual Ark-La-Tex Forestry Forum, held March 2, aimed to assist landowners, foresters and loggers in mapping out a plan to increase productivity and profits during times of market downturn.
“A small landowner can’t do the same things with 40 acres of land now that he could 15 years ago, so learning new ways to manage the land productively is key,” said AgCenter forestry agent Ricky Kilpatrick, who coordinated the event.
Kilpatrick stressed the need to work with a professional consulting forester to help with land management. Individual landowners with 40 or 60 acres of forest land would benefit by joining with other small landowners in their area to work with a consultant who would in turn benefit by increasing his client base, he said.
AgCenter economist Shaun Tanger said small landowners face two big hurdles: information exchange and finding a cost advantage that works for their investment.
“The more isolated you are in a tough market, the worse your chances are of accomplishing what you need to get done,” Tanger said.
Consultants have the network small landowners need to accomplish what they are looking to do with their timber, he said.
Talking with other landowners, joining a local forestry association, seeking help from extension agents, working with a consultant and gaining a better understanding of local, regional and statewide markets all help increase information exchange. Timber markets are local, but the overall health of the local market is determined by the larger marketplace, Tanger said.
Forecasts for forest timber are good, Tanger said, with plenty of trees on the ground and annualized returns of 8 to 12 percent on forest property still realistic for the long term.
AgCenter research forester and extension specialist Mike Blazier said more affordable herbicides are available than ever before for forestry competition control, and measures to control non-crop vegetation can produce a growth benefit that can last half the life of the trees, leading to more timber at harvest.
“The more we do to give trees maximum room to grow in the first two years of planting and at thinning time, the faster forest products will develop, resulting in an improved financial performance of the management plan,” Blazier said.
Blazier’s best advice for using herbicides in forest management is to know what herbicides the trees you are growing can tolerate; what the most abundant weeds are at your site and what herbicides can control them; and your soil type and what effect it may have on the herbicide application to assure you get accurate application and the results desired.
AgCenter animal scientist Glen Gentry said research using sodium nitrite to control feral hog populations is promising as collaborations are underway with AgCenter School of Renewable Natural Resources, the LSU Department of Chemistry and the University of Louisiana at Monroe School of Pharmacy to develop an encapsulation process to provide efficient and effective delivery of sodium nitrate to the hog gastrointestinal tract.
Gentry said he is excited about a recent breakthrough testing dehydrated fish as hog bait. “Every time we ran this test with dehydrated fish and corn, the pigs consumed all of the fish before they actually started on the corn,” he said.
Before using fish, numerous bait trials were held with whole shelled corn used as a base line, and the pigs preferred the corn consistently.
“Now we have a bait matrix,” he said. “We know what it takes to kill them. We have three groups working on encapsulation, so next we just need to get it to the pigs.”
Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association, said efforts by state lawmakers to attach reductions to dedicated funds to help fund the state budget are among several issues affecting forest landowners that require close monitoring, including potential reductions to both the Forest Productivity Program (FPP) and the Forest Protection Tax.
Since the first distribution of FPP funds in 1998, more than $30 million has been invested in future forests that fuel the forest industry, which generates $10 billion for the state economy annually, he said.
“These dedicated funds are there to help plant our forests for future generations to make sure that the forest products industry remains the No. 1 agricultural industry in the state,” Vandersteen said.
Taxes and financing play vital roles in management decisions of forest landowners, and all landowners should take advantage of what is available to them to increase the value of their forest land investment, Vandersteen said.
Monroe tax attorney Paul Spillers discussed the basic rules for tax-free exchanges for forest landowners aiming to sell timber property for reinvestment in other like-kind property or vice versa.
“Standing timber is real estate under Louisiana state law, and this is a very taxpayer–favorable rule that opens up many investment opportunities,” Spillers said.
Spillers reviewed tax incentives on qualified timber property where the entire cost of reforestation can be deducted, which is particularly important for smaller forest landowners reinvesting in future timber.
Southern regional extension forester Bill Hubbard, who is based at the University of Georgia, highlighted mobile technologies for forest landowners with an overview of new device applications for the forest arena that offer mapping and distance calculators, pest identification, record keeping and interactive decision support guides.
These technologies will never replace the need for a professional, but they can still be helpful, Hubbard said.