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Making HAY from Your Forest

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Forest owners now can enjoy annual income from their woodlands and still manage for high quality sawlogs and veneer logs. No, there haven't been any new super-growth hormones developed. However, foresters have begun to focus on non-traditional items that nature produces in and around forests every year--potential products that can be marketed for annual income.

Tree & Shrub Pollen

Did you ever think about tree pollen as a product of your forest? Tree and shrub pollens of many species are harvested in hardwood stands beginning in early spring, when flowering starts. Generally, pollens are harvested by "producers" who pick the flowering structures when the pollen is "ripe." They contract in advance with landowners for pollen harvesting rights.

Prices for raw pollen vary from about $1 per gram for the most common species to over $20 per gram for species that produce little pollen or occur in a limited range.

Prices vary from year to year, but pollen processors distribute price lists containing the species they desire to purchase that year and the approximate amount they are willing to pay for material meeting their specifications.

Berries and Fruits

Blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, huckleberries, wild strawberries, wild grapes or mulberries grow under a forest canopy. Landowners might allow people to pick wild berries for a fee or pick them themselves and sell the fruit to individuals or local businesses for further processing.

Persimmons, pawpaws, chokecherries and crab apples are used for specialty jams and jellies, confections and baked goods. May apples and crab apples are used in jellies and preserves as well as medicinal compounds. People are growing natural varieties of pawpaw, sometimes called the "Ozark banana," for more consistent fruit production, larger fruit size and smaller seeds. The pulp of the fruit is high in vitamin C. The twigs and leaves contain compounds used as natural pesticides and anti-cancer medicines.

AgriMissouri Buyers Guide, a publication of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, lists many processors and canners and markets for a wide variety of wild crafted products. This publication is as an excellent reference for landowners attempting to find existing markets for many special forest products in their local area.

If you have access to the Internet, visit <http://www.spoon.com> to see what a variety of gourmet products can be produced almost entirely from wild harvested fruits and nuts.

Edible Nuts

Black walnuts have been the major nut crop in Missouri for many years, thanks to Hammons Products Company of Stockton, the world's largest processor of black walnuts. In an average year this company purchases and processes over 20 million pounds of nuts. Most of this volume comes from wild trees and is delivered to market by landowners. For walnuts delivered to a "huller," producers are paid $10 per hundredweight after the green outer husk is removed.

Native pecans also are collected and sold, most of them directly to consumers at roadside stands or to commercial processors. Managing native pecan stands for nut production is increasing, but the market is still open.

Many of the "minor" nut species also have active markets. Hickory markets are expanding in the South and Midwest. In addition, the demand for butternut, chestnut and hazelnut normally exceeds supply.

Acorns are often overlooked as edible nuts in this country, but they have future potential in international markets, especially along the Pacific Rim.

Other edible products of forests include honey, mushrooms, maple syrup, herbs, spices, edible roots and flavorings. You can get more detailed information about any of these products in your local library or on the Internet.

Cones and Seeds

Cones from coniferous species offer a variety of market possibilities. The most obvious markets for ripe cones are tree nurseries throughout the country.

Cone harvest often takes place in conjunction with a timber sale timed to take place when the cones are ripe. Cones can then be more easily picked from the remaining tops following removal of logs and pulpwood.

Cones that have opened also are in demand for various floral, wreath and potpourri products. Many nurseries now sell opened cones to craft markets. Almost any species of cones, from small fir cones to large ponderosa pine cones, are marketable. Cones are most often sold by weight but may also be sold by the bushel or be individually priced for large or unusual specimens. Prices average 30 to 60 cents per pound.

Hardwood seed crops can be handled in a similar manner. The market is growing for seed of both tree and shrub species for native plant nurseries.

Seeds from understory plants and shrubs are equally desirable, and seed from medicinal plant species may be marketed as grown in a cultured environment. A thorough inventory of all your forest plants would be a good idea to determine if you have potential for harvesting multiple seed crops.

Prices vary according to relative abundance of the species and the difficulty of harvesting the seed. Price lists are available from larger seed dealers and seed supply wholesalers. Landowners can harvest seed themselves or sell harvesting rights to a seed collection company.

Seed production is variable, even in local areas. For consistent income, landowners should focus on several different species and become familiar with the seed production requirements for each. You should also check special state regulations regarding the species being harvested, although there are few restrictions for harvesting on private land.

Decorative Wood & Horticultural Products

Unusual parts of trees, such as burls, conks, shelf fungus and dwarf mistletoe-infected branches, can be sold in most areas of the country. Distorted grain patterns, colors and textures lend appeal to wood turnings, veneer, carvings or sculpture.

Diamond willow walking sticks made from willow infected with canker are popular. In Missouri, oak, hickory, willow, red cedar, walnut, sassafras and staghorn sumac are harvested when 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter for walking sticks. Wholesale prices average $1 to $2 per 3- to 4-foot stick.

Cypress knees, fruitwood grafts, pine knots, knot holes and limb crotches can be marketed through hardwood lumber outlets, carving shops and specialty wood supply houses. A few specialty wood supply catalogs also list a variety of these products. Horticultural supply companies occasionally stock this type of material for bouquets, floral arrangements, bases, etc.

Oak, hickory and elm (with bark still attached) sticks in a diameter of .5 to 1.5 inches are required by manufactures of bent-wood or rustic furniture. Fresh 4-foot sticks sell for approximately 50 cents each. Longer sticks--up to 10 feet long--sell for more. Eastern red cedar also is used for similar products. You can ship sticks to manufacturers in small bundles.

Burls, figured wood, spalted wood or woods of unusual color also are in demand for turnings, wood pens, furniture panels, veneer and many other specialty uses. These are items that are relatively scarce and highly desirable, therefore it is not uncommon for them to be sold individually.

Spalted wood usually develops in logs or trees that have been lying on the ground long enough for the decay process to begin. Spalting usually occurs in the sapwood portion of the tree, leaving the heartwood still usable for lumber or other solid wood products. Old log decks sometimes are a good source of spalted wood.

Decorative woods generally are sold by weight. The price per pound is highly variable and depends on the species, rarity and quality of the item. It is not uncommon for items in this category to change hands many times before being processed into a consumer product. Global markets are active. The Internet is helpful in locating dealers and individual markets.

Medicines & Pharmaceuticals

Medicinal compounds used for naturopathic remedies include a large number of herbs used to make teas and oils. These markets are well established and growing. Manufacturers of pharmaceutical drugs also require specific chemical compounds contained in plants and trees.

Wild crafting or gathering these plants has historically provided income for many rural families.

Pharmaceuticals are not the only use for many of these plants. Some dyes, cosmetics, fungicides and insecticides also are derived from relatively common plants. Several botanical companies with headquarters in Missouri purchase and market botanical plant material throughout the world. All regularly publish price lists and specifications for the plants or plant parts they purchase.

Some of these plants are relatively rare and may actually be listed as rare or endangered. Landowners are advised to become familiar with harvesting regulations that might be applicable if these plants are marketed.

Bark

Bark is used for medicinal and "natural" food supplements.

Cottonwood bark is prized by wood carvers, who cut faces and caricatures from the thick plates. It is also used for bases for floral arrangements and crafts. It is softer than wood, but dense enough to maintain detail. Pieces 3 to 4 inches wide, 10 to 12 inches long and 2 to 3 inches thick would sell for $5 to $15 at craft and carving shows.

Bark with distinctive patterns (hackberry, winged elm, persimmon, etc.) or color may have a market in your area. The problem with harvesting bark products is that it usually kills the trees.

Use of private forest land for recreational pursuits offers private landowners potential for annual income. The landowner has almost unlimited options in this area, from doing almost nothing to intensive development.

Recreational Enterprises

The old real estate adage of "location, location, location," certainly is true here. If your land is located near population centers, your options are probably greater than if it is in a remote area. However, remoteness is a commodity that can be marketed also. Fee hunting and fishing have been sources of income in some areas of the country for many years. Urban families are willing to pay for places to enjoy nature photography, harvesting wild edibles, farm vacations, hiking, photographic tours, picnic areas and bird watching.

Allowing people access to your private property is not without risk. Liability insurance rates vary widely for recreational enterprises.

Summary

We've named only a few of the thousands of potential forest products. For the innovative landowner or entrepreneur, however, these brief descriptions will point the way to specific products and markets. To begin research, obtain a copy of Income Opportunities in Special Forest Products, Self Help Suggestions for Rural Entrepreneurs; USDA-Forest Service; Agricultural Information Bulletin No. 666, 1993. The initial printing has been sold out, but most libraries can obtain microfiche copies. For more specific assistance, contact the nearest Conservation Department office and talk with a resource forester.

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