Brian R. Chandler, Morgan, Johnny W.
For many years pine needles have been the fuel for getting rid of underbrush in pine stands or the potential fuel for wildfires. But now the pine straw, which once was regarded only as waste, is proving to be a product with money-making potential.
LSU AgCenter area forester Brian Chandler recently brought those interested in getting into the business to a pine straw field day in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The April 28 field day began at the Georgia-Pacific Pavilion north of Baton Rouge, where Mike Buchart from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry discussed the pine straw market. Pine straw marketers Ron Gremillion of East Baton Rouge Parish and Melvin Husser from Tangipahoa Parish discussed pine straw harvesting.
After the presentations, the group toured Ron Gremillion’s operation for a demonstration of the harvesting procedures.
"What we’re trying to do is to just expose landowners to the potential for baling and selling pine straw," Chandler said, adding that marketing pine straw is not really a new business model, since 20 years ago such an association drew membership statewide.
Chandler explained the original thinking was that this is an industry with a lot of potential – because of the thousands of acres that could be harvested for pine straw. But the problem for those who have looked at going into the business has been the shortage of labor to actually make it profitable.
Buchart said most of the strawberry producers in Southeast Louisiana used to use pine straw in their fields. "But then the plastic row covers came along and knocked that out," he said.
He said Georgia, Florida and Alabama are the big pine straw-producing states.
"It’s estimated that about 40,000 bales are being produced in Louisiana by about 15 harvesters," Chandler said, adding, "The problem is they’re not organized, and we really don’t know where they are."
Chandler said he decided to focus this annual field day for those in the forest industry on pine straw marketing after talking with Gremillion about his business.
"Just to show how popular this idea has become, we have people here from as far away as Caddo, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes," Chandler said at the field day.
Buchart further explained that using pine straw as mulch has several advantages.
"First, it doesn’t float away. Second, it holds up longer. And once you have a good layer down, you can add a little new straw and fluff it up to look like you just put down a new bed," he said.
One of those attending the field day was Henry Matthews, who owns land in several Southeast Louisiana parishes. He said he came to see if he could make additional profit from the trees on his property.
"I have trees about this age, and I’m just putting the facts together at this point," he said while looking at Gremillion’s operation. "When people plant pine trees, they normally have one thing in mind – that is getting the trees up to about 75 feet and 18-20 inches in diameter to be sold for light poles."
Buchart said landowners who don’t want to get involved in the process of harvesting can easily make 25 cents per bale by letting someone come in and harvest their straw for them. It may not sound like much, but it really adds up when you look at an average of 150 bales per acre, Buchart said, adding, "That’s almost $38 per acre of pure profit."
For additional information on the pine straw industry, contact the LSU AgCenter’s Chandler at (225) 683-3101 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on a variety of topics related to agriculture, family life and much more, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.