From the Field: Forestry is a Significant Industry in Virginia

 From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.


We have often heard governors, elected representatives, and agency personnel talk about the significant economic contribution of agriculture and forestry to the state of Virginia.  Forestry is included, but have you ever thought of the forestry industry by itself instead of the agriculture portion that tends to get most of the recognition?  

There is quite a bit of logging that takes place in the southern part of my field district, especially the counties of Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, and Nelson.  I know other areas of the state have significant forestry economies.  However, it wasn’t until my family had two tracts of land harvested this fall that I gained a much greater appreciation and knowledge of the forestry business.  It is a big business.  

When the farming community thinks of expensive equipment, thoughts of new combines and tractors come to mind with shiny new paint and electronic command centers at the driver’s seat.  But when I consider the costs of skidders, feller bunchers, knuckle boom loaders, chippers, tractor-trailers; the asset value sitting on a logging deck is easily over a million dollars.  For two months, it was just plain fun and interesting to watch the progress of the tree harvest.  At the end, it was a sad day to see all of the equipment and trailers pull away.  But my sons continue on with logging in smaller fashion with their new logging toys that they got for Christmas.  

The two tracts of land were clear cut.  This was the best decision for us.  That decision included an assessment of the trees standing prior to harvest.  Factors of that assessment were tree maturity level, quality, species and growth potential.  The other assessment was a plan for after the harvest.  Approximately 70 percent of the land will be planted to Loblolly Pine and the remaining 30 percent will be converted to pasture.  This type of assessment and planning of our wooded land in consultation with the local Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) staff and logger had never been done on our farm.  This was a major milestone.  

For the past 70 years that I know of, the wooded land was just allowed to grow and flourish with no thought to management.  When previous generations thought some trees were ready to harvest, it was done.  This clear cut will, in essence, allow us to start from a clean slate and be able to actively manage our forest land.  

During the harvest, the logger had a market for every piece of wood there was except the stump.  There were saw logs, logs for railroad ties, pine chips, hardwood chips, and fuel chips.  All of these different wood products went to numerous sources in the area such as MeadWestvaco in Covington, RockTenn in Hopewell, Greif in Riverville, and Dominion Power in Hurt.  Forest products include paper, cardboard and containers, wood pellets, lumber, rail road ties, furniture, and electricity from burning of wood chips just to name a few.  Here is a cool video link (https://www.dom.com/about/stations/renewable/pittsylvania-power-station.jsp) to the Dominion Power plant in Hurt that burns wood chips to make electricity for up to 20,000 homes.  

This logging experience increased my knowledge and awareness of the forestry industry dramatically.  I just think about all of the businesses such as those mentioned above that are close to me plus other businesses that are directly and indirectly involved in forestry.  It becomes quite clear how the forestry industry is a major economic driver for localities and the state.

 Here are a few statistics from the Virginia Department of Forestry website.
  1. 62% of Virginia land area is in forest.
  2. Most of Virginia’s forest land is privately owned or 12.8 million of 15.9 million acres.
  3. Majority of forests are hardwood type trees, of which half of that acreage is over 60 years old.  Approximately 20% of the acreage is pine.
  4. Economic impact of 144,000 jobs and $23.4 billion to the economy.
  5. It is a renewable resource.
Other important benefits include wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and water quality protection, especially in light of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) for the Chesapeake Bay.  

The VDOF is looking to the future and changing with the times.  The Tree Improvement Program researches and develops more efficient and faster growing genetics, studies planting density, tree thinning and nutrient applications.  A planting of Loblolly Pine can now be ready for harvest in 22 years thanks to improvements of seedling genetics and research.  There are some challenges though.  Pests of Pine Bark Beetle and Gypsy Moth have been on the decline the past 10 years thanks to vigilant control methods.  But new threats include the Emerald Ash Borer and Thousand Canker Disease of Black Walnut trees.  Other challenges are poor economy, changing demographics, changing forest land ownership, loss of forestland, especially blocks of acreage, and changing forest markets.  

The forestry industry is exploring new products and markets from forest products as we move into the future.  I think Virginia is in a very good position to further enhance our forestry industry with our topography, climate, and access to a large export facility.  Next time you are traveling take a closer look at your surroundings.  You just might see more going on in the woods than you thought.  

Until next time, 
Mark

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