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Sustainable Agriculture

Mississippi-Led Workshops Create Opportunity for Forestland Owners

Mississippi State University faculty are broadening profit-making options for forestland owners, many of whom assume that timbering is the only way to make money from their land. More than 3,000 private, non-industrial landowners in Mississippi attended a series of workshops to learn to better manage their forestland.

With help from a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, which included co-funding from USDA's National Agroforestry Center, the successful educational effort is moving to Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. That expansion will build upon the successes of the program since 1998, when the Mississippi State University Extension Service started conducting what would become 39 workshops for people who own 10 or more acres of forestland.

Thus far, participants estimate the economic value of what they learned about managing their woodlands to exceed $27 million, says project leader Glenn Hughes, a forestry specialist.

“The environmental benefits are also significant, because we highlight the value of best management practices in protecting soil and water quality,” Hughes said. “When you consider that about 1 million private forestland owners live in the four south-central states, the environmental and economic implications are tremendous.”

To expand beyond Mississippi, researcher Marcus Measells surveyed 6,000 landowners in the four states. Responses to those surveys, along with focus groups, indicate that most of the private owners lack forestry knowledge and are not aware of government programs that could help improve their management skills.

Hughes designed workshops around the needs revealed by the surveys. For example, the surveys indicate a prevalent view that timbering is the only way to make money with forestland. The workshops provide information to participants about other potential profit makers, such as pine straw, hunting leases, and agroforestry enterprises. The agroforestry element is crucial since farmers own 20 percent of the private forestland in Mississippi.

“Historically, farmers clear-cut the forests and turned them into cropland,” said Measells. “A prime example was the Mississippi Delta, where hardwoods were cut right up to the streams—causing erosion, sedimentation, and water pollution. The workshops introduce the concept of using riparian areas to filter the water and hold the soil.”

If all forestland owners were to become active managers, Hughes projects that the increase in timber production value alone would exceed $4 billion annually in the four states. Using best management practices would enhance wildlife habitat, reduce soil erosion, and maintain or improve water quality.


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