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If Thinning or Removing a Pecan Orchard, 'Wood' You Consider This?

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Posted Feb. 1, 2006

The Agricultural Division's Research and Demonstration group has made additions to some Noble Research Institute properties that will help alleviate a few of the problems associated with seasonal and sporadic dry periods. On the newly acquired Dupy property, which is located in the Washita River bottomlands in Carter County, Okla., a linear irrigation system was installed in 2005 to allow some research and demonstration projects to be conducted in a more "controlled" environment. We will install a second irrigation system at this farm later in 2006.

Additionally, a center-pivot irrigation system will be added at the Red River Demonstration and Research Farm (RRDRF) in Love County, Okla. The area that will be under irrigation was previously part of a pecan orchard. Several hundred mature pecan trees were bulldozed out of the ground and will be removed from the site. What we did on the RRDRF was not a typical thinning operation we plan to convert part of this mature orchard to a completely different use: irrigated farm/grassland for small-plot research. The initial plan was going to involve stacking and burning a tremendous amount of biomass. We instead decided to salvage some of the trees. Our goal was to market these trees as pecan wood.

My colleague and I cut about 150 of the biggest trunks we thought were saw log quality. These logs, on average, were about 6 feet long with a diameter at breast height (dbh) of 20 inches. Using the Doyle Log Rule, this equates to almost 100 board feet per log. I don't know what a saw log "on the stump" is worth, but I was guessing around $20. I do know that pecan goes for a minimum of $1/board foot as lumber. However, for lumber, the log needs to be at least 8.5 feet long, and not many of our logs are that long. Also, to sell as lumber, the wood has to be milled and dried two operations we do not have the equipment to perform.

According to a local sawmill, milled and dried pecan wood is difficult to sell as lumber, even though pecan and hickory woods are rated as the number three hardwood group in the United States, behind only black walnut and black cherry in terms of value. That mill has been selling pecan wood for pallet wood and fetching around 50 cents per board foot. It also costs 40 cents to 50 cents per board foot to mill the wood, so we may be looking at a break-even proposition, at best.

There is a small sawmill not far from the location of this pecan orchard. The owner of that sawmill has offered to bring his portable sawmill out and saw the logs "on the halves." We would then have to turn around and market pecan lumber. Unless we can identify a premium market, it is doubtful we will be making much money with this venture. However, we should benefit from the fact that these hundreds of logs we removed from the site will not have to be burned.

If you are thinning or removing a pecan orchard, it may be beneficial to look at marketing options for getting rid of the wood rather than having to burn it all. It can be marketed as veneer logs, saw logs, pallet wood, cross ties and/or firewood. If you are within the Noble Research Institute service area (a 100-mile radius of Ardmore, Okla.), there is probably some kind of a sawmill in your vicinity. You may fall into a situation that will allow you to make a small profit on your timber or, at the very least, reduce the total costs of thinning or removing the orchard.