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TREES AS A CASH CROP

Shelly Paulocik

R.R. 1

Bluevale N0G 1G0

Reading about the efforts of Andy Dixon in Keith Roulston's article in the October's "Rural Voice" gave much to ponder. Dixon, a Centralia area farmer, believes other farmers should consider the potential of a very different crop - trees - and begin planting. Through the years he has worked with black walnut, red oak, white ash, black locust, cottonwood, mulberry, and red cedar. Since his first planting in 1939, Dixon has questioned the notion of heavy planting rates and subsequent thinning. Instead of the conventional 6 x 6' spacing, Dixon now works with 15, 25, and 40' spacings. He reasons that uncrowded and properly cared for, the trees will mature much sooner. The spacing also enables him to tackle the question of earlier returns from the land.

In various trials, Dixon has investigated interplanting with annual and perennial crops. Corn, oats, and rye have been used to provide immediate cash flow. By moderating the environment, (providing some shade, and reducing wind), these crops have also aided in the establishment of the trees. In a different tack, Dixon interplanted black walnut with black locust on a marshy river bottom. The locust are fast-growing, and can make excellent firewood or posts, and are expected to bring some return within twenty to thirty years. Similarly, red oak was interplanted with cottonwood. This nurse crop is also fast growing, and Dixon hopes the cottonwood will be harvestable in twenty years for pallet wood or plywood. The wide spacing in the walnuts will also facilitate nut harvest in years to come, as yet another way of providing annual income.

Dixon's economic projections invite consideration. Even now good black walnut logs can fetch upwards of $1,500, as did a seventy-year-old tree for him recently. Cottonwoods are expected to bring $50.00 each in twenty years, or $5,500/A. Dixon is hoping the white ash (planted at 25' spacing), will be worth $150 each in 50 years. His white pine at 15' spacing, kept pruned for knot-free wood, are calculated to return $100 per tree in 35 years. Other plantings of red cedar (for cedar chests), and mulberry (for specialty lumber) have been more recently established.

Besides these long-term returns, Dixon sees other benefits in planting trees. Since this will take some land out of conventional crop production, he reasons this is another way of reducing surplus production without reducing the number of farmers. All in all, Dixon presents much to consider, and given the old adage "The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second best time is now.", we would do well to consider it now.

Copyright 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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