Pine Straw is a very useful natural resource. I recently bought some property that had a few acres of pine trees on it. So I started wondering if there was any money to be made from having these acres of pine trees even though they are not mature enough to be harvested. What I came across was the harvesting of the pine straw dropped to the ground by the pine trees. As I explored the harvesting potential of the pine straw I found that Pine Straw can be harvested at about age ten and on, at about two times per calendar year. Pine plantations yield 100 to 150 bales per acre per year if all conditions are right or approximately two tons per acre each year. Factors such as tree age, species, stand density, soil fertility and season affect pine straw crop. Other variables that contribute to pine straw yields include interval between harvests, bale size, “cleanliness” of underbrush, and raking efficiency. Three things to always inquire first about before harvesting are:
- Pine Straw Density
Also as a rule of thumb, vigorously growing younger stands produce more than overly mature, stagnant stands. This rule also holds true for wood production. Also, a well-managed, clean stand with several years’ accumulation of needles will not necessarily provide greater yield than a well-managed, clean stand with only two year needle fall because older needles disintegrate and become too brittle to bale. Only the fresh, red needles are desired by consumers.
For pine straw removal and proper harvesting one would need a highly productive crew of five or so people and will require about two to three weeks to prepare, clean, rake, bale, and haul pine straw bales from a typical, 30 acre plantation. The process for machine harvesting a typical pine plantation for pine straw requires that you:
- Remove (prune) the lower limbs of every tree that might block the movement of equipment and laborers within the rows. Pruning may be performed by hand with machete or special saws. Limb removal may also be accomplished more cost effectively by using a modified cutter attached to a small tractor. Hand raking operations may not find pruning necessary depending upon tree height.
- Remove all trees and shrubs that are within the baling rows. Remove all limbs and other debris from the baling rows. The debris must be picked up or raked off site. Often, one out of 3 or 5 rows will be used as a “trash” rows in which the debris will be deposited. This eliminates the need to move the debris great distances.
- Rake the pine needles either by hand or by machine into windrows. (A windrow is a row of cut (mowed) hay or small grain crop.)
Surprisingly, raking and baling are the easiest and fastest parts of the process. Cleanup, gathering, and transporting the bales are the more difficult, labor intensive and expensive steps.
- Make sure to exclude any insects (ants), excess litter, grass, hardwood leaves when baling that might reduce the value of the bale.
- Bale either by hand or by machine. Twine should be tight enough to hold bale securely without breaking.
- Transport bales out of woods and deliver to markets or to a storage barn. Straw bales should be protected from rain to prevent molding and nutrient leaching.
Once all has been harvested and baled and shipped off the plantation, owner should receive a healthy penny for their harvest. Hope you enjoy the harvesting potential of pine straw as much as I do. Now go bale some Pine Straw!
By: S. Lauren Easterday