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Your farm’s hidden asset: Its woodlands

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Maximizing every bit of profit from a farm is one of the keys to success. One thing that may not be at the top Kentucky landowners’ minds is their farm’s woodlands, but woodlands should be thought about and managed just like crops, fields, gardens or other agricultural endeavors suggests Billy Thomas, UK Extension Forestry Specialist.

Farmers can benefit by understanding the industry and learning basic forestry concepts, such as how to control light and density, manage pests and steward a forest to make it healthier and sustainable. There also can be important tax benefits for timber owners, and secondary markets may be available for nontimber products such as hunting leases, ginseng, shiitake mushrooms and fence posts.

It may be a surprise to learn that timber, the majority of it privately grown and processed, is one of the largest agriculture and natural resource industries in Kentucky. The statistics are impressive: Kentucky ranks as one of the top three hardwood producing states in the United States. (Pennsyl-vania and Tennessee usually account for the other top spots in the hardwood timber business.) Twelve million acres, almost half of Kentucky’s land base, are forested. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the total economic impact of Kentucky’s forests and related industries contributes more than $8 billion each year to the state’s economy, and it employs more than 30,000 people. Most of Kentucky’s forests consist of hardwoods, with oaks, yellow poplar, hickories, ash, cherry and walnut contributing to the economic value of the forest industry. Woodlands also are valuable for providing habitat to a wealth of wildlife, from black bears to bobcats. These woodlands also serve as a backdrop for much of the recreational and tourist activities in the state.

Another important contribution of woodlands, but harder to put a dollar figure on, are the ecosystem services such as water and air filtration, carbon sequestration and flood control they provide.

More than 11 million of Kentucky’s 12 million forested acres are classified as timberland, meaning they are capable of growing commercial timber at a rate of 115 board feet of wood volume per acre per year. (A board foot is 12 inches by 12 inches by 1 inch). Logging in Kentucky is renewable, as tree growth in the state exceeds annual timber removal. The industry also ensures that commercial operations have a Master Logger graduate on-site and follow best management practices for protecting water quality at harvest sites.

Sawmills and other industries produce much less waste than in the past, utilizing all but 5 percent of wood residue, down from 35 percent in the 1970s.

Advances in machinery and utilization of sawdust and bark residue have fueled this significant reduction in waste. Now, mulch, fuel, composite wood products, charcoal and animal bedding are made from leftover wood, reducing the industry’s impact on the environment. Anyone who is interested in learning more about how to realize a potential economic value from forested land has many resources. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service offers technical training classes and wood center utilization programs, professional forestry workshops, technical publications, logger training and more. It also offers the Woodland Owners Short Course, a yearly learning conference, with two different experience levels.

For more information, visit www.ukforestry.org and www.ukwoodcenter.net  or contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service at 502-255-7188.

Michael Pyles is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for agriculture.