“How big of a tract of land do I need to invest in, to harvest timber?”
This is a question I have received by many landowners looking to cut timber they have on their own property or perspective buyers looking to purchase land with a timber investment component. I tell people who are looking to purchase property with an intent on cutting later in the future, to buy at least 40 TIMBERED acres. The reason why I emphasize “TIMBERED” acres, is that some properties may be 40 acres, but they have a pond, a large SMZ (streamside management zone), a house, a pasture, etc. Therefore, it is not 40 “TIMBERED” acres. The rationale behind this, is because logging is trending to the higher production type of tracts. In other words, a tract of timber needs to have enough volume on it to justify the logging company to be able to cut it.
For example, I, as well as every other forester in the procurement or consulting business have gotten that phone call from a landowner that wants 5-20 acres cut. While this is not to say that it couldn’t be cut, it is harder to move a logger to cut such a small tract by itself. In a situation like this, the best option to get it cut is when there is a logging operation being done very close to your property. Sometimes they can be so close they can drive the equipment to your job without having to load it on a low-boy trailer. Every time a logging crew moves, it is costing them money. Not only in the overhead, salaries, and fuel, but also that means that its time they are not in the working in the woods, cutting, skidding and hauling wood.
Gone are the days of logging with mules and horses. My great grandfather was one of these loggers. He logged for nearly all his adult life in east central Alabama. Depending on the type of wood, 5-20 acres would take several weeks to months to harvest. Today, with logging equipment being highly mechanized with the latest in technology, on newer machines, it could only take a crew just 2-3 days to cut 20 acres. Along with this high mechanization and technology comes cost. With a good portion of crews having to finance their equipment, they must maintain a certain amount of production each week to cover their costs.
As with any “Rules of Thumb”, there are always exceptions, of course. Is there a good chance if you had 20 good acres to cut, that someone would come cut it that wasn’t cutting close by? Sure. I’ve seen 20 acre tracts that have more volume on them than a 50 acre parcel. However, to ensure that when you do decide to harvest some timber on your property, you want to make it as attractive as possible when marketing it, to get the best possible price. Having a tract close to 40 timbered acres or larger would be a big step toward doing that. If you are looking to purchase a tract of land with a timberland component, that you would like to manage for a future harvest, talk to an experienced and knowledgeable Land Professional and a Registered Forester that can help you find that type of property you are looking for.
Written by: Brian Watts is a Registered Forester and a Licensed Land Agent/Realtor with Southeastern Land Group, in Alabama. Brian assists his clients in the selling and acquisition of rural land, as well as timberland management. He is also a contributor to our weekly radio program, “The Land Show”.