Many farms have several acres of woods on their lesser productive acres. This is the result of early owners preferring to keep some land in woodlands for aesthetics, firewood, and a source of their own building materials. If the woods had several maple trees, some tapped the trees in early spring to collect the sap water and make maple syrup as a supplemental cash crop.
Assuming the soils were not the most productive, they may have pastured cows on the wooded acreage; all the time considering the farm woodland a resource contributing to farm income with little thought to growing and selling mature hardwoods.
In the last 30 years the value of hardwood lumber has increased and we, at Halderman Farm Management Service, consider the highest and best use of the soils in the wooded area when evaluating that part of a farmland asset. Many times the anticipated growth of the quality hardwood species including oak, cherry and walnut will produce competitive income compared to grain crops on these soils.
I have the privilege of managing farms where timber production has been valued by landowners. The first step was to utilize a professional consulting forester to evaluate the species present and project when marketing of select mature trees should begin. The second step is to implement timber stand improvement activities recommended by the forester to enhance the growth rate in the woods. The third and final step is to use the same consulting forester for marking and conducting a sale the timber to be sold. If well managed a woodlands can get to the point where we are on the third harvest of select marketing in a given woods. One forester projects that some woodland generate a 9% return on investment annually.
A feature of timber production is one can sell timber when it best fits their personal needs. During the recent recession values of hardwoods dropped significantly. Marketing was delayed for several years until prices improved. Ironically, it was during 2007-2013 that grain farms produced increased income. Now that timber prices have improved we are marking select trees ready for harvest. The additional revenue will be welcome in 2015.
Farm woodlands can be acres of profit and enjoyment for owners and wildlife.
There are those who think trees should grow forever with no harvest: however leaving timber standing devaluations the woodland over time and benefits no one. Selective harvests generate a nice cash flow, create some decent habitat for wildlife and actually improve the long term value of the woodlands.