Timber losses hurt USDA's conservation efforts - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Timber losses hurt USDA's conservation efforts

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Southern Plantations Group Joe Marshall Southern Plantations Group Joe Marshall
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This year's drought is described as catastrophic for South Georgia's struggling timber industry, the state's leading agricultural product.

South Georgia landowners say the majority of young pine trees planted this year have died. And that could have economic consequences for decades.

In Northern Lee County, this 100 acre stand of pine trees planted in January is just about a total loss, because of the drought.

Southern Plantations Group Joe Marshall and many of his neighbors are now preparing to replant.

 "We've had a lot of mortality. From what I have observed and what I heard, we've had mortality ranging from 50 to 80 or 90 percent. Those are terrible losses," Marshall said.

USDA Lee County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Hank Hammond said "This year with our tree planting we have suffered catastrophic losses on our trees that have been put in the ground this year."

Timber is a nearly $20 billion industry in Georgia, that generates nearly 177,000 jobs. Marshall said some landowners, already facing low prices due to slow demand, could be pushed out of business by the devastation from this spring's drought.

 "Definitely. And in other cases you can see an added cost that they can ill afford at this time," Marshall said.

Pine trees take about 15 years of growth before it can be harvested for pulp wood. It's about 25 to 30 years before it can be cut for saw timber. The loss of a full year of growth is a huge cost for the growers.

"My children and grandchildren will experience those losses when the crop comes in. I'm experiencing it now certainly, and the additional costs of having to go in and replant," Marshall said.

The Georgia Forestry Commission estimates that tornadoes and wildfires this year have wiped out more than 193,000 acres of privately owned forest, the largest timber loss from natural disasters in one single year. Now add drought losses and Georgia lumber availability in coming decades could be cut short.

The USDA says they are already in the works to replant pine trees lost in the Conservation Reserve Program. They say it's vital they get trees back in the ground and pray for more moisture this fall.