Fifth-generation farmer Ward Wilkins owns a small tract of forestland, which provides a little extra income and a lot of contentment. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photos/Tom Campbell)
It's not uncommon for Ward Wilkins to pack a lunch, walk into his 36 acres of forest in the morning and not be seen again until sunset.
There, he might be cutting down a tree ready for harvesting, or he might be clearing out the dreaded bush honeysuckle on the forest carpet. All the while he is spending some time amid the tranquility of his woods.
"It's a peaceful place to be," he says. "I never come out in a bad mood."
Wilkins is among woodlands owners whom Purdue University forestry experts say do it right—stewards who care deeply about the natural resource of their property and manage it well so it can thrive for future generations to enjoy. He has taken the research-based advice of Purdue's Department of Forestry and Natural Resources on how to effectively manage his woodlands to meet his objectives and has offered his land for field work for FNR and agronomy students.
Wilkins himself is a fifth-generation farmer of 620 acres of family-owned land near Linden in west-central Indiana. In addition to the woodlands, the land is used for growing crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. For the Wilkins family, a management plan has been a long-term commitment. It has to be for forestland, which requires nurturing over many years to produce what an owner wants from it.
Wilkins sells wood that he cuts from a variety of trees: white and red oak, white ash, black cherry, black walnut, Kentucky coffee bean and hickory.
He doesn't know what percentage of his total income comes from wood sales—only that it is very small, hardly worth mentioning. For him, selling wood is an excellent way to "fill in the winter" after the crops have been harvested and make a little extra money. In fact, because his woodlands involve few costs, they historically have generated more net income per acre than his traditional row crops, at least until commodity prices skyrocketed in recent years.
Indiana Gaining Forest Acreage
Surprisingly, there is more forestland in Indiana now than there was 15-20 years ago—4.7 million acres, up 200,000. Purdue Extension forester Lenny Farlee cites several reasons for this.
• The livestock industry's move from raising animals outdoors to indoors has resulted in gradual, natural conversion of some pastures and haylands to forestland.
• Conservation programs encouraging landowners to plant trees have returned marginal agricultural land to forests.
• Grass, brush and wetlands habitats are becoming forests as more trees grow up in those areas.