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Harvesting/Selling Pine Straw for Extra Profit

May 3, 2019


Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about harvesting, and selling pine straw for extra profit. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today, we're speaking with Dr. John Willis, Mississippi State University Assistant Forestry Professor. John, what are some possible factors that are leading growers to try selling pine straw right now?

John Willis: Well, Amy, the elephant in the room is the pine market. As I'm sure most landowners are aware that pine is not worth what it was a decade ago, and as a result of that you have lots of landowners trying to make up for that lower stumpage price by gaining some extra income in other areas. The other factor would be the decline in the pulp market. In lots of areas of Mississippi, we just don't have the demand for pulp that we once did, and pine straw can be a substitute product that can help make up for the loss of pulp income.

Amy Myers:  Of course, we use pine straw for landscaping. Are there any advantages of using pine straw around the home and garden instead of using wood mulch or another type of material?

John Willis: Yeah, pine straw tends to stay in place a little bit better than mulch does, and you wouldn't believe it, but it actually does stay pretty stable after you put it down. Also, when pine straw is breaking down, it's going to be adding nutrients into your soil at a faster rate than what mulch chips will. The only thing you need to really be careful with is if you have plants around your house that don't like acidic conditions because pine straw is going to make your soils more acidic.

Amy Myers:  What exactly makes pine straw a good material to use? You kind of already explained that, but is there anything else you want to say about that?

John Willis: Well, it's also very good as a way to stop erosion, and that's really the purpose it serves in a forest stand a lot of times, is it stabilizes the organic layer. It's going to have the exact same effect in your garden, so it's great for that purpose.

Amy Myers: Okay, maybe a good insulator for plants?

John Willis: Exactly.

Amy Myers:  Any other ways to use pine straw that we might not expect? Maybe talk a little bit more about the erosion thing.

John Willis: Yeah, that's a nice secondary market that people are using pine straw for is to put it down around building sites to stop erosion, and that's actually become more and more common, especially in areas where they're doing a lot of drilling for natural gases.

Amy Myers: And that's because it helps the soil sort of stay in place?

John Willis: Yep, it provides that barrier in between the equipment traffic and the soil that's going to help limit some of the mechanical damage that could be done.

Amy Myers:  What varieties of pine trees is pine straw used for?

John Willis: The species of pine that are going to primarily be used in pine straw, your premium species is going to be longleaf. Typically, that's because the longer needles take a little bit longer to decay, and it's easier for the balers to pick up. Loblolly pine is certainly merchantable, but it is not worth the same level as longleaf pine or slash pine. At this point, there is no real market for shortleaf pine needles. This is due to the length, as you might imagine.

Amy Myers: Okay, so the longleaf pine gets a better price because of the length of the pine needles?

John Willis: Correct.

Amy Myers: Okay. What type of equipment does this involve, and how do we prepare the site or our pine tree stand to harvest?

John Willis: Yeah, so pine straw can either be raked manually or it can be bailed. It just depends on the contractor coming through, what types of equipment that they have, but it can be as simple as a pitchfork or as complicated as a tractor. Some of the things that people do need to recognize with pine straw, though, is that the stand needs to be very clean, almost park-like to where you could walk unimpeded without any brambles or hardwoods coming up in the understory. That's not a natural state for many of the forests in Mississippi, as naturally most of our forests will tend to be hardwoods over time, and so you're going to have to have inputs and getting rid of that understory. That's going to be a prescribed fire or herbicides to get it clean enough to rake, and that's very, very important.

The other thing you need to consider with pine straw is that you are taking some nutrients off of your site, as the needles will contain a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus, so over time you could see a reduction in the growth potential or the site quality that you have. These things can be fixed by not raking every year, taking breaks in between raking, or fertilizing, but it's an issue that you need to be aware of.

Amy Myers: Okay, and you do this usually in the fall when the needles start to drop?

John Willis: Correct. October through December is typically the season when pine straw raking is going to be at its peak because the buyers are looking for the fresh fallen needles that are going to be that orangish-brown tint.

Amy Myers: Thank you so much. Today, we've been speaking with Dr. John Willis, Mississippi State University Assistant Forestry Professor. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Forestry

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