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David Burner measures tree diameter whileKaren Chapman and Jim Whiley measure pine straw yields from 1-meter-square grids. Link to photo information
To determine the effect of tree spacing on pine straw yield and growth rates, agronomist David Burner measures tree diameter while technicians Karen Chapman and Jim Whiley measure pine straw yields from 1-meter-square grids. Click the image for more information about it.

Forest-Friendly Ways to Get More From Pine

By Luis Pons
July 7, 2006

Pine is an important part of the U.S. lumber and paper industries. But it has an economic drawback that its growers know all too well: It can take 30 years or more for a pine stand to mature and turn a profit.

That's why Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists Daniel Pote and David Burner are working on environmentally friendly strategies that commercial pine growers can use to get the most from their stands. Pote, a soil scientist, and Burner, an agronomist, conduct their research on 60 acres of pine planted at and near the ARS Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Ark.

One aspect that they concentrate on is harvesting fallen pine needles as "straw" for use as landscaping mulch. A main goal is helping growers supplement their income from their pine stands while still keeping the stands' environment intact and viable.

According to Pote, pine straw tends to interlock and stay in place better than most other mulches while still retaining a loose, open structure that allows air, nutrients and water to easily reach the soil surface. So he's concerned that forests and watersheds from which pine straw is harvested could suffer from the loss of these benefits.

Pote's studies showed that although harvesting pine straw increases runoff, soil erosion and some nutrient loss, these impacts can be softened by less-frequent harvesting. He noted that growing forage under the pine-tree canopy to hold soil in place when straw is removed is a conservation method worth considering.

Meanwhile, Burner is studying how spacing and fertilization of trees affects pine straw yield. He's also examining how wider applications of agroforestry practices involving pine can boost income from millions of farm acres that are of marginal quality for crop production.

His focus is on silvopasturing, a practice that combines tree-growing with forage and livestock production.

Read more about the research in the July 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.