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Man walking in forest.

One concern landowners may have when making forestland management decisions is 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 with making decisions and may lead to better forest management.

Physiological regions in the South

Figure 1. Physiological regions in the South that were used in the 2018 Cost of Forestry Practices survey showing the Southern Coastal Plain (A), Northern Coastal Plain (B), and Piedmont or similar uplands (C).

This report summarizes the results of a 2018 survey to examine the costs of forestry practices across the southeastern United States. For this survey, three physiographic regions in the South were considered: the Southern Coastal Plain, Northern Coastal Plain, and Piedmont regions (figure 1). The results presented are based on 85 usable responses. Of those, 39 percent were from private family landowners, 4 percent were from publicly funded organizations, 26 percent were from consulting firms, 14 percent were from private forestry firms, and 9 percent of respondents reported “other” for their organizational type. The remaining 8 percent did not list an organization type. The results presented are adapted from the “2018 Cost and Cost Trends” Special Report in the November/December 2019 edition of Forest Landowner magazine.

Results

Mechanical Site

Mechanical site preparation was reported on 56,613 acres at an average cost per acre of $182.28 (table 1). This activity included practices such as shear-rake-pile-bed, subsoiling, and drum chopping. Single-pass operations averaged 33 percent less than double-pass operations and 54 percent less than triple-pass operations.

Table 1. Mechanical Site Preparation Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.
Site Preparation TreatmentNumber of PassesAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average
AllAll56,613127.92199.29220.46182.28
All114,33397.33167.47*130.45
All219,973126.20268.51*195.50
All37,151***286.69

 

Planting

Pine seedlings were reported as being planted most often in 2018, for a total of 156,178 acres planted (table 2). The majority of respondents (53 percent) reported hand planting, 9 percent reported machine planting, and 38 percent reported both methods. Most of the pine seedlings planted were bareroot loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which made up 74 percent of the total acres reported.

Pine seedlings planted averaged 553 per acre for hand planting and 613 per acre for machine planting (table 2). The average cost of machine planting bareroot pine species on cutover land was 25 percent more than the average cost of hand planting all bareroot pine seedlings on similar sites.

Table 2. Hand and Machine Planting Costs Per Acre and Purchase Cost Per Seedling Planting Method Acres Southern

* Too few responses. Overall planting costs per acre do not include seedling cost.

Planting MethodAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per AcreAverage Purchase Cost Per SeedlingOverall Average Seedlings Per Acre
Hand Planting
Cutover land, all pine, bareroot50,70674.0058.65*63.540.10580
Cutover land, all pine, container11,534*86.67*95.620.17563
All land type, loblolly pine, bareroot67,922***62.790.09580
All land type, loblolly pine, container7,045***79.680.16522
All land type, longleaf pine, container8,857*86.41*112.980.20522
All hand methods, all pine95,97871.6766.9293.6760.410.12553
Machine Planting
Cutover land, all pine, bareroot54,600*78.52*80.020.09590
All land type, loblolly pine, bareroot47,297*86.37*88.530.09574
All machine methods, all pine60,200*78.52*116.930.09613

 

Prescribed Burning

Fifty-five percent of survey respondents reported prescribed burning in 2018. A ground drip torch was used in all cases for a total of 74,545 acres at an average cost per acre of $31.92 (table 3). Regional differences in costs were reported. In general, prescribed burning practices reported in the Piedmont were more expensive than in other regions.

Table 3. Prescribed Burning Treatment Costs Per Acre by Ignition Type and Burning Purpose

* Too few responses.

Ignition TypeBurning purposeAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
Ground, drip torchSite preparation35,976*36.05*33.36
Ground, drip torchUnderstory control25,39831.5826.0227.6628.46
Ground, drip torchAll74,54529.9432.7030.2831.92

 

Chemical Application

Chemical applications were reported by 72 percent of respondents who treated 122,995 acres in 2018 (table 4). Site preparation, mid-rotation release, and herbaceous weed control were the top reasons for treatment with the majority of acres (66 percent) treated as part of site preparation activities. Fifty-two percent of acres treated were aerially sprayed. Overall, aerial application methods were less expensive than ground application methods with the exception of herbaceous weed control. Additionally, the average cost per acre was, on average, higher in the Piedmont than in other regions.

Table 4. Chemical Application Costs Per Acre by Treatment Purpose and Method of Application

* Too few responses.

Treatment PurposeMethod of ApplicationAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
Site preparationGround18,03577.5685.38*83.83
Site preparationAerial47,057*76.2094.0479.41
Site preparationAll81,71276.6581.9898.6683.89
Midrotation releaseAerial7,766*55.36*59.62
Midrotation releaseAll26,200*65.54*66.22
Herbaceous weed controlGround15,951***24.23
Herbaceous weed controlAerial6,904***60.99
Herbaceous weed controlAll22,854*33.15*40.94
AllGround39,57074.7276.37122.5880.73
AllAerial63,47177.1969.0190.3274.44
AllAll122,99578.8673.0197.1077.09

 

Fertilization

Few respondents (12 percent) reported using fertilizer as a forestry practice. Of those who reported fertilizing
their forestland, they reported treating 49,577 acres at an average cost of $95.15 per acre (table 5). Aerial application of fertilizer accounted for 63 percent of all fertilization treatments reported in 2018. Aerial applications of a blend of diammonium phosphate (DAP) and urea were most common.

Table 5. Fertilization Costs Per Acre by Purpose of Application, Application Method, and Fertilizer Type

* Too few responses.

Purpose of ApplicationApplication MethodFertilizer TypeAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
AllAllDAP10,150***66.89
AllAllDAP+Urea32,838***105.90
AllGroundAll17,993***81.22
AllAerialAll30,996***97.60
AllAllAll49,577***95.15

 

Fire Protection

In 2018, only 15 percent of respondents reported using some method of fire protection on 257,500 acres at an overall average cost per acre of $12.21 (table 6). Protection methods reported included firebreaks, fire plows, and tractors. Primary methods of fire detection included self-observation, forestry commissions, neighbors, and hunting clubs.

Table 6. Fire Protection Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

Primary Method of Fire ProtectionAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
All257,5794.96**12.21

 

Timber Cruising and Marking

Timber cruising was reported by 38 percent of survey respondents. The majority (63 percent) reported using variable radius plots at an overall average cost of $10.53 per acre (table 7). Most (62 percent) of the 15,086 acres of marked timber operations reported were completed before thinning operations. Only 24 percent of respondents reported completing any type of marking activity on their lands (table 8).

Table 7. Timber Cruising Costs Per Acre by Inventory Purpose and Method Used

* Too few responses.

Inventory PurposeMethod UsedAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
AllFixed plot76,16918.808.51*15.55
AllVariable radius466,42011.419.65*10.53
AllAll546,28914.779.4214.5012.27

 

Table 8. Timber Marking Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

Timber Marking PurposeAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
Thinning9,383***41.20
All15,08631.6743.0067.1729.25

Precommercial Thinning

Precommercial thinning is often completed early in a rotation and when trees may be in an overcrowded condition. For the 2018 survey, 18 percent of survey respondents reported precommercial thinning on 6,233 acres (table 9).

Table 9. Precommercial Thinning Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

Primary Thinning MethodAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
All6,233***149.98

 

Custodial Management

Custodial management costs may include activities such as road construction and maintenance, boundary line maintenance or surveys, insect and disease management, or legal fees. Only 22 percent of respondents reported custodial management activities in 2018 at an overall average cost per acre of $13.73 (table 10).

Table 10. Custodial Management Costs Per Acre by Operation Type

* Too few responses.

Operation TypeAcresSouthern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Northern Coastal Plain
Average Cost Per Acre
Piedmont
Average Cost Per Acre
Overall Average Cost Per Acre
All943,941***13.73

 

Changes in Costs Estimates

When comparing 2016 to 2012 averages, the majority of costs decreased except for chemical applications and hand planting (figure. 2A). Comparisons to 2014 averages show that most costs increased except for timber marking, machine planting, and fertilization (figure 2B).

Percent change in costs of forestry practices

Figure 2. Percent change in costs of forestry practices (A) from 2012 to 2016 and
(B) from 2014 to 2016.

Summary

Forestry practice costs in the South have been more variable in the last ten years than 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 the 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 softwood stumpage prices during this time likely influenced decisions of landowners and managers that may have played a role in the variability of the cost of forestry practices. Further, liability concerns and labor issues seem to be affecting the costs of forestry practices, particularly in relation to tree planting and prescribed burning and should be something to watch in the future.

 

Download a PDF of Costs & Trends of Southern Forestry Practices 2018, FOR-2073.

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