When making forestland management decisions, landowners are often concerned with the cost of forestry practices. They may worry that they cannot afford to complete activities such as planting or understory control, so they choose to do nothing. Knowing even a range of costs for forestry practices can help in the decision making process and may lead to better forest management.
This report summarizes the results of a 2016 survey to examine the costs of forestry practices across the southeastern United States. Three physiographic regions in the South were considered: Southern Coastal Plain, Northern Coastal Plain, and Piedmont regions (fig. 1). The results are based on 76 usable responses. Of those, 42 percent were from private family landowners, 7 percent were from publicly funded organizations, 26 percent were from consulting firms, 12 percent were from private forestry firms, and 8 percent of respondents reported “other” as their organization type. Results are adapted from the “2016 Cost and Cost Trends” Special Report in the September/October 2017 edition of Forest Landowner magazine.
Mechanical Site Preparation
Mechanical site preparation was reported on 75,152 acres at an average cost per acre of $140.99 (table 1). This activity included practices such as shear-rake-pile- bed, subsoiling, and drum chopping. The majority of acres reported were single pass operations, which were 51 percent less than double pass operations and 58 percent less than triple pass operations.
Pine seedlings were reported as planted most often in 2016, for a total of 236,783 acres (table 2). The majority of respondents (76 percent) reported hand planting and 24 percent reported machine planting. Most of the pine seedlings planted were bareroot loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which made up 85 percent of the total acres reported.
Pine seedlings averaged 582 per acre for hand planting and about 600 per acre for machine planting (table 2). The average cost of machine planting bareroot pine species on cutover land was 33 percent higher than the average cost of hand planting all bareroot pine seedlings on similar sites.
Fifty-four percent of survey respondents reported prescribed burning in 2016. A ground drip torch was used in all cases for a total of 60,305 acres at an average cost per acre of $26.63 (table 3). Regional differences in costs were reported. In general, prescribed burning practices reported in the Piedmont were more expensive than those reported in other regions.
Table 1. Mechanical Site Preparation Costs Per Acre
|Site Preparation Treatment||Number of Passes||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall Average|
Table 2. Hand and Machine Planting Costs Per Acre and Purchase Cost Per Seedling Planting Method Acres Southern
|Planting Method||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall Average||Average Purchase Cost Per Seedling||Overall Average Seedlings Per Acre|
|Hand Planting||Average cost per acre||Average cost per acre||Average cost per acre||Average cost per acre|
|Cutover land, all pine, bareroot||55,973||54.47||67.1||56.46||59.34||0.08||585|
|Cutover land, all pine, container||3,032||53.66||94.79||*||72.29||0.17||605|
|All land type, loblolly pine, bareroot||136,203||*||*||*||55.6||0.08||581|
|All land type, loblolly pine, container||4,064||*||*||*||65.1||0.14||582|
|All land type, slash pine, bareroot||2,104||*||*||*||52.1||0.06||609|
|All land type, longleaf pine, container||3,994||*||*||*||63.2||0.2||572|
|All hand methods, all pine||154,995||*||*||*||60.41||0.12||582|
|Cutover land, all pine, bareroot||37,318||68.48||86.8||112||89.09||0.08||598|
|All land type, loblolly pine, bareroot||65,113||*||*||*||86.8||0.08||576|
|All land type, slash pine, bareroot||9,995||*||*||*||61.7||0.06||643|
|All machine methods, all pine||81,788||*||*||*||83.62||0.09||603|
Table 3. Prescribed Burning Treatment Costs Per Acre by Ignition Type and Burning Purpose
|Ignition Type||Burning purpose||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall average|
|Ground, drip torch||Site preparation||23,846||25.1||22.74||35.83||28.94|
|Ground, drip torch||Understory control||31,328||14||28.32||24.22||23.61|
|Ground, drip torch||All||60,305||18.12||25.6||29.4||26.63|
Chemical applications were reported by almost 80 percent of respondents who treated 455,738 acres in 2016 (table 4). Site preparation, midrotation release, and herbaceous weed control were the top reasons for treatment with the majority of acres (53 percent) treated as part of site preparation activities. Seventy-one percent of acres treated were aerially sprayed. Overall, aerial application methods were less expensive than were ground application methods. Additionally, average cost per acre averaged higher in the Piedmont than in other regions.
Less than a quarter (21 percent) of respondents reported using fertilizer as a forestry practice. They reported treating 185,750 acres at an average cost of $70.41 per acre (table 5). Aerial application of fertilizer accounted for 90 percent of all fertilization treatments reported in 2016. Aerial applications of a blend of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) and Urea were most common.
Although more than 26.7 million acres were reported to be using fire protection methods of some kind in 2016, less than one-quarter of respondents (22 percent) reported the practice (table 6). Protection methods reported included firebreaks, fire plows, and tractors.
Timber Cruising and Marking
Timber cruising was reported by 41 percent of survey respondents. The majority of respondents (67 percent) reported using variable radius plots at an overall average cost of $11.32 per acre (table 7). The majority (88 percent) of the 5,958 acres of marked timber operations reported were completed before thinning operations. Only 22 percent of respondents reported completing any type of marking activity on their lands.
Precommercial thinning is often completed early in a rotation and when trees may be in an overcrowded condition. For the 2016 survey, 14 percent of survey respondents reported precommercial thinning on 9,846 acres (table 9).
Custodial management costs may include activities such as road construction and maintenance, boundary line maintenance or surveys, insect and disease management, or legal fees. Just more than half (51 percent) of respondents reported custodial management activities. Road construction and maintenance accounted for 45 percent of all acres reported in 2016 (table 10). Average cost per acre for all operation types was greatest for the Northern Coastal Plain region.
Table 4. Chemical Application Costs Per Acre by Treatment Purpose and Method of Application
|Treatment Purpose||Method of Application||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall average|
|Herbaceous weed control||Ground||22,442||*||*||*||57.11|
|Herbaceous weed control||Aerial||60,933||*||*||*||44.14|
|Herbaceous weed control||All||96,963||*||37.76||*||50.59|
Table 5. Fertilization Costs Per Acre by Purpose of Application, Application Method, and Fertilizer Type
|Purpose of Application||Application Method||Fertilizer Type||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall Average|
Table 6. Fire Protection Costs Per Acre
|Primary Method of Fire Protection||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall Average||Overall Average|
Table 7. Timber Cruising Costs Per Acre by Inventory Purpose and Method Used
|Inventory Purpose||Method Used||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall Average|
Table 8. Timber Marking Costs Per Acre
|Timber Marking Purpose||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall Average|
Table 9. Precommercial Thinning Costs Per Acre
|Primary Thinning Method||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall average|
Table 10. Custodial Management Costs Per Acre by Operation Type
|Operation Type||Acres||Southern Coastal Plain||Northern Coastal Plain||Piedmont||Overall Average|
|Boundary line maintenance||1,404,002||*||*||*||1.36|
Changes in Costs Estimates
When comparing 2016 to 2012 averages, the majority of costs decreased except for chemical applications and hand planting (fig. 2A). Comparisons to 2014 averages show that most costs increased except for timber marking, machine planting, and fertilization (fig. 2B).
Forestry practice costs in the South have been more variable in the last ten years than they were in past decades. This is due, in part, to the fact that the forest industry has been affected during much of this time by depressed housing markets, timber demand, and stumpage prices. Another factor influencing costs of forestry practices is financial pressure on corporate forest products companies. This pressure caused many companies to transition to Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMO) or Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) or to divest of timberland completely. In addition, the low stumpage prices during this time likely influenced decisions of landowners and managers that may have played a role in the variability of forestry practices costs.