Texas Pine Plantation Annual Yields of Pine Straw
Typically, East Texas pine plantations yield 100 to 150 bales per acre per year if all conditions are right, or approximately two tons per acre each year. The quantity varies as much as 60 bales per acre on less suitable sites to as much as 200 bales per acre on exceptional sites. Factors such as tree age, species, stand density, soil fertility and season affect straw yields. Other variables that contribute to pine straw yields include interval between harvests, bale size, cleanliness of stand, and raking efficiency.
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 customers.
Stands as young as seven years of age have been successfully harvested for pine straw. Landowners may begin raking younger stands, but the yields will be too low to warrant entry into the stand with mechanized equipment. Pine straw yield increases with stand age up to approximately 15 years of age, at which time the stand yields the maximum amount of straw. After 15 years of age, there is a slight decline in needle fall, but yields remain fairly constant for the remainder of a typical rotation (25 to 35 years).
A fifteen year-old stand that has been clean the pine straw hand raked into a windrow.
Pine straw production increases as the total basal area per acre increases. Studies show that stands with a density of about 75 square feet per acre will produce approximately 125, 30-pound bales per acre. While more dense stands of 125 square feet per acre may yield 175, 30-pound bales per acre provided that all fallen needles are available to be harvested which is never the case.
Care must be taken considering the health and productivity of the crop tree for the production of wood fiber. Although great quantities of straw might be produced with high stand densities, overly dense stands slow individual tree growth and increase the risk of loss to disease, insects, natural mortality, and fire. A professional forester can provide assistance in determining the best stand density for a specific site.
Needles stay on the branches for about two years after which they turn brown and fall. Needles fall throughout the year, but the heaviest shedding occurs in September and October under normal weather conditions. December, January, and February are good months for raking, provided the bales can be carried directly to the dealer or stored under shelter. Unfortunately, wet weather during these months often precludes baling because the pine straw must be dry for raking, baling and for the general use of equipment in the forest. Harvesters that hand rake, may still collect pine straw during the wet season provided that they have an indoor pine straw drying facility to dry the straw before it is baled. Otherwise, in East Texas, August through November is established as the ideal months for harvesting pine straw.