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Texas Cedar

When I started out exploring and sharing experiences on woodworking using the web, I took the handle ‘Cedar Slayer.’ Between allergies and my enjoying the smell of the wood, I was cutting and using a reasonable quantity of the stuff. I grew to love this wood, and was surprised at the variability of it. As I researched and read up on the stuff, I found out how to cure cedar fever, and how valuable a tree cedar is. Mind you, I don’t want it everywhere, but am actually encouraging the plant to grow in a few places in my yard now. I found out that a lot of cedar we use is not even cedar. If it holds up in weather ok and smells cedary, we call it cedar. The ‘cedar’ used in cigar boxes is actually a hard wood. The cedar in my yard is juniper.

Lovely stuff juniper. in the middle of summer it grows pretty powder blue berries. In late fall, in my yard, the berries ripen. Most fall before you can pick them, but the ripe ones are actually quite sweet and tasty. if they are not ripe the taste pretty much like pine smells. The story is that if you eat five or so berries, you will be immune to cedar fever allergies. My family tried it this last year, and for us, it worked.

Here is a site with a lot of good information on cedar.

My current plan is to put a windbreak of cedar at the north end of my yard.  The more I work with and learn about cedar, the more I love it.  The trees can be real itchy though, and I am not fond of itchy.

Bob

9 comments to Texas Cedar

  • Skip J.

    Good subject Bob;

    My cedar shelf board project is coming along slowly, which is better than the alternative. I find it’s splitting properties to actually be an advantage when shaping with a drawknife.

    Excellent link you provided above. That lady has sure done her homework. Can’t have nice, wide cedar boards unless they are allowed to grow into proper trees….

    Now you need to do one of these for mesquite. I finally cut to handle length and drilled out my chunk’o mesquite for the chisel blade. Next up comes the JB Weld. Need to take photos while still in the “during” stage I guess. Very shortly I will be experiencing the splitting properties of mesquite. Hopefully cedar taught me how to work with it already….

    And yes, cedar is itchy…

    Take care;

    Skip

  • My thought is that while cedar farming is not the fastest, they can survive in some of our worst areas in Texas. It might be long term planning, but I wonder if someone could make a go of it. What do you think, Skip?

  • Skip J.

    Oh my…. an invitation to discuss tree farming!

    First you have to accept the concept that – in Texas – tree farming is a very long term process; the “tree farmer” is lucky to make enough from occasional thinnings to pay operating expenses. His original cost to purchase the land is not repaid from these small incomes. And these small amounts come 5 and 10 years apart themselves; so there’s a considerable wait just for them. In summary, a tree farmer is doing this as a very long term investment for his children and their children.

    Second you have to accept that no one has this kind of money to let sit that way, except for very wealthy people who have a choice of where to stash their funds, some of which might or might not be placed into tree farms.

    This leads to the third and final reality – actual tree farmers already have their land for some other reason and have to make it fit somehow into the rules to be a tree farmer. These can be small tracts of 20 acres or more near towns and cities; or really big tracts way out in the deep woods.

    In fact, you can classify these landowners into recent purchases of small tracts with a residence – or to have a residence – and separately large tracts further out that have been passed down in estates or bought by r/e investment groups, but not subdivided up into small tracts yet. However, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a retirement home – or a large multi-owner estate or r/e investment group; they all enjoy the same benefit that drives tree farming almost 100%, ag productivity status for county tax reduction.

    For other ag exemptions, the gentleman/lady farmer – or large tract investment group/or estate – must actually raise cows or crops as a business. Tree farms just sit there looking good with no effort or expense risk normally associated with raising crops and cows.

    So a small landowner right outside of Austin – or over next to your place – whose looking at leaving a large copse of young cedar woods to his children to harvest as logs someday – can get an ag tax exemption right now while enjoying retirement on the site.

    Ummmm, what do you think about me writing another post here about the actual cedar timber operations on a tree farm as opposed to all this conceptual tax stuff????

    Just another wannabe tree farmer at heart….

    Skip

  • I love the idea, Skip! I wonder about mixed wood tree farming as well. I don’t see it much, so I fear the answer you are going to give is not what I want to hear.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    Thanks Bob; I’m booked today but can do it tomorrow, I think.

    On the contrary, mixed woody species are at the heart of ag exemption tree farming.

    What you’re really saying is that it is very difficult to get the county to grant you an ag exemption for mixed tree species, and in that, you are correct.

    More on that tomorrow…. but you see, an article on ag exemptions could take up the whole day’s post – a third article would have to come along with the actually raising a tree farm part.

    Til tomorrow…

    Skip

  • Skip J.

    Tree Farming of Mixed Woody Species

    The purpose of ag exemptions is to differentiate the rural county’s tax rate between – #1.) the original rural folks who produce ag foods on their property – and #2.) the city folks who bought a small property to retire to, or r/e investor groups speculating on an increase in land values, or a multi-person estate of children who inherited the land, but live elsewhere. That is, the county tax exemption for raw land is tied to producing crops or animals for sale only. The landowners’ residence does not qualify nor does facilities for hobbies like raising horses or dogs. This means that anybody who is not really in the business of raising crops and/or cows for sale does not qualify. That is the express purpose of the laws that grant such exemptions.

    So anybody in landowner group #2 must actually get all the way into producing ag goods to qualify; even though that is not their purpose in owning their land. The difficulties in raising real crops’n cows generally encourage group #2 folks to pay the much higher property tax rate. That is, except for………. you guessed it – tree farming! Between the little bit of timber income from timber operations and the tax break from the county; there is enough to pay a consulting forester to do all the work and have a little bit left over. Having at least broke even, or made a little bit – the tree farmer now has an investment property that is increasing in value with each year’s timber growth, whether the land value increases or not. And when the day comes that the land value does increase, then the related taxes do not, because it’s exempt!

    Well, all this sounds real fine and good, a have your cake and eat it too situation…. until the prospective new tree farmer rides around the neighborhood looking at tree farms. All he sees is “ugly” manicured rows of pines, not his beloved yard full of mixed hardwood species… that’s right up there with having a smelly dairy barn on the property for city folks. Or if he’s in cedar/mesquite country, he doesn’t see any tree farm signs at all.

    Along comes a hungry new consulting forester who needs to feed his family, but hasn’t given up and quit yet. Of course, the old established consultants have all the big money-making pine tree farms; none of which are available to a new guy. In desperation, new guy actually reads the ag exempt laws the established timber pros are so afraid of – and lo and behold, raising only row crops of pines is not required by law. You can raise hardwoods and qualify – even raise cedar a loooong many miles from timber country, and still be legal. New guy jumps in his truck and drives around talking to folks who want an exemption, but have been denied it for their little bit of hardwoods or cedar. New guy suddenly signs up a lot of folks who have been told it can’t be done, based on he only gets paid a part of the savings in county taxes. He works real hard for a year for free, and then next year the money starts rolling in. Kinda like selling life insurance, it’s lean in the early years, but after awhile he becomes that established older forester that has all the good clients.

    Soooo, if you can find a qualified forester who will do the work to get you started; your mixed hardwood copse of woods – or cedar or mesquite – will qualify for the ag exemption…..

    All that said, right up front you have to accept the “uglyness” of “timber harvesting” operations on a regular basis across the entire tax-exempt property; including right outside your city style manicured front yard.

    Next time I’ll talk about tree farming mixed woody tree species in general and cedar forests in particular.. I promise! It might be a day or two before I get around to it though….

    And never forget, these laws are not passed to favor the small group of down’n dirty real farmers over the rest of us. These laws are from the rest of us preventing local counties taxing their farmers out of business; either raising the cost of food to all of us, or eliminating it and then we rely only on importing foreign food. We the city folks provide a way for rural folks to continue to survive and feed us in these high dollar times and on into the future…..

    Skip

  • Skip J.

    Tree Farming – Timber Management Plan
    You now accept that growth and sale of timber products will qualify for a county tax ag exemption. You plan to spend the next year getting it setup and running.
    First, you contact the county tax or CAD office and visit them to politely ask what are their requirements for an ag production exemption. If they hand you a prepared list of “typical” qualifications for an approved tree farm you’re off and running; they at least acknowledge the such an exemption exists and most likely there is at least one somewhere in the county. If so, drive by and look at it. Then go to the county ag state extension office and ask where the local state forester is located. Many times he is also in the same building, but he may also be located in the next county over. Make arrangements for the state forester to come out and work you up a simple timber management plan that will qualify for the timber exemption.
    It may take a month or two or three for him to be able to get around to it. If you don’t want to wait, start looking around for a consulting forester, you’re going to need him soon anyway. Hopefully you have at least 20 acres of land that can be in timber production, if it isn’t already. I think 10 acres is the absolute minimum, but I might be wrong about that. Now if you already had crop production or cattle production already in place on the property, converting 10 acres or less to timber might be no problem.
    The forester looks at what timber you have on the property and if you have pines; he writes a plan to thin them out into nice neat rows that looks like a crop of trees. If you don’t have pines or don’t want them in neat rows; then it’s time to switch to the consulting forester.
    You make an agreement with the consulting forester when he gets paid and from what source does he get paid from… see posts above. Once he is contracted for, stand back and let him work. If you have mixed hardwoods and pines, let him know first before he starts what you want the end result to look like. If you want it to continue to be a mixed species after timber harvest thinning, now is the time to say so. Open ground will get a plan to plant tree seedlings, which is a long-term sit back and watch it grow. But mostly, you have to sell some timber in order to qualify for the exemption. Right about now smelly cows are starting to look pretty good!
    (sound of trumpets in background)Ok, lets look at an example of tree farming cedar. You been thru the whole nine yards described above and are ready to start. Let’s say you have 20 acres or more of young cedar growing wild in the back pasture. You can feed the horse in an acre up by the house and ride him down the road, no need to pay high taxes on the back 20 acres, or 40, or 50, or……. The forester says they are growing too close together and need thinned out. He knows a fence company that will take a few trees here and there for free. You agree to pay the forester a fee to mark only the trees to be thinned and give them to the fence company. He marks them to look natural when done, not all in neat tidy rows. The timber “harvest” happens and you’ve paid the forester – but you gave the trees away and so made no money yet. And the place looks like a bomb went off in there. Lots of stumps sticking up and tops and limbs trimmed off and laying around. Welcome to tree farming!
    Provided that you can live with the process over the long term, you decide to stick with the plan and photo-document the whole process start to finish. Make a complete set of every single piece of paperwork for the county. Lots of photos, the timber management plan by the forester, the “almost bill-of-sale” receipt from the fence company, and copies of any expenses you paid for – particularly the fee to the forester. Before the next tax year comes, you take the fat file of documents to the tax office and apply for the exemption. They may say that since no money has been made on a sale yet, you don’t qualify. Don’t give up! Point out all of the “investment” you have already made to convert your property to ag production based on his office’s qualifications for a timber production exemption.
    And you plan to make another thinning in 5 years of small logs, which will generate a small cash income after paying the forester. And 10 years after that will be a thinning of medium logs that will finally put some cash in your pocket after all this time.
    Now actually, it’s not quite this simple. In fact, it is pretty complex – hopefully your forester is as up on ag exemptions as he is on raising trees.
    Anyway, that’s why you don’t see any tree farm signs driving around in cedar country. You’ll be the first!
    Skip

  • This is great information, Skip! I wonder how small you can go? This makes me wonder about the possibility of not just urban wood harvest, but urban forestry. It would make for a nice community until it was time to make stumps. People would have to make a few changes in how the build and how they set up fences, but urban forestry would leave a better carbon footprint.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    You’re welcome Bob; thanks for providing me the stump to speak from! I appreciate it!

    It’s almost impossible to get under 20 acres of woods approved for tree farming tax exemption, and I believe the law bottoms out at 10 acres. Cedar is perfect for urban forestry, but it is not a tax driven activity at all. The advantage of non-tax exemption tree farming is that you can raise any species you want for any reason. If you don’t have to sell them, they can just sit there getting bigger for your future heirs to cut, maybe. And they can always be cut in a natural fashion that looks like a natural woods, not a row crop of trees.

    Let’s say you have 5 acres of established woods on the edge of town and you expect to continue paying the same property taxes on it in the future. There is a row of medium sized – 10″ dbh – cedars along the fence and small ones coming up beside them. The rest is grown up with mixed woody species thru established old live oaks. Say some 10″ dbh water oaks, willow oaks, loblolly pines, Chinese tallow and a few red oaks. An ag extension agent provides you with some information on harvesting timber and you get more detailed books at the library and online. You go thru the woods with a spray can of tree paint and paint a few trees to cut down, leaving mostly the better, straighter trunk trees to grow and all of the red oaks. Mark all of the tallow to be cut and hauled away.

    Mark each tree at eye level and again at the base. Check each stump after the timber cut for your mark and if it doesn’t have one; then the logger stole a tree from you. Record the dbh of each tree according to the information you have, and estimate the height of the usable part of tree. You’ll need a dbh tape measure to do this, Forestry Suppliers has everything you might ever need to raise trees. Make an estimated tally of the # of board feet for each species. Get a list from the county extension agent of all of the mills that might come into the edge of town for a small amount of bf. Send your tally along with a map and permission to come on your property to all timber buyers on the list. State that you are not a forester and these numbers are estimates only; the timber buyer is to make his own timber cruise on your site. Give them a date in about a month that their bid offer amount to you has to be in your hands. Don’t expect much money at all for this first timber thinning.

    When it comes time for a contract and timber deed, be careful about stating how clean you want them to be on your place and that they must have all of the commercial insurance policies. Give them 18 months to 2 years to come harvest the trees. You get the small check and sign the deed and record it at the county. When they come get the trees, make sure they only take what they bought. Also make sure they take the ones you want to get rid of – like all of the tallow – before they go. And make sure it is written into your deed that they take all tops that can be sold as pulpwood along with those tallows. A few really bad tops will be left over anyway, as well as all of the limbs.

    Bring in a brush hog and mulch up all those limbs and the smaller tops. Be sure not to run it up onto a stump. Let the mulch sit on the ground, it prepares the soil for future tree growth. And, hope it doesn’t catch fire in dry weather. Take the tractor and push a fire break of raw bare dirt all around outside of the woods, and a few fire lanes thru the woods. Come out every 6 months and till up any growth in the fire breaks. Talk to the county forester about having him run a controlled burn on the property during some future winter at his convenience. Plan on you or your heirs having another timber harvest in 10 to 20 years when the trees are larger. There will be quite a bit of good timber to sell then, and that check will be substantial.

    Bottom line is that you did it without expense for a consulting forester who can’t make enough to work on a 5 acre tract anyway, you supplied timber into the lumber system in place of forests; and for big trees of odd species like cedar or mesquite, maybe you even supplanted some cutting of rare tropical trees. Of course, the carbon footprint is better than having the 5 acres covered with concrete or grass; and you leave your heirs a substantial amount of non-cash assets that continue to grow bigger over time.

    But you must accept that the mulch and tops and stumps are natural and will always be there – in order to achieve these goals. One other thing.. 5 acre tree farms is really suburban tree farms. True urban forestry is people with a 100′ x 80′ lot calling a tree removal company to come remove a tree for some reason. The tree removal company then sells the bole of the tree as a log to a timber mill and hauls it with a few others there himself. The benefit is that it does not go to a landfill, as well as providing a number of logs into the lumber system. I highly recommend the book “Harvesting Urban Timber” as it explains the process very well and gives actual case histories of companies who practice urban forestry.

    Skip

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