How much does it cost to plant pine trees per acre

Costs & Trends of Southern Forestry Practices 2020

One concern landowners may have when making forestland management decisions is the cost of forestry practices. They may worry that they cannot afford to complete activities such as planting or understory control, so they choose to do nothing. Knowing even a range of costs for forestry practices can help make decisions and lead to better forest management.

Figure 1. Physiological regions in the south that were used in the 2020 Cost of Forestry Practices survey showing the Southern Coastal Plain (A), Northern Coastal Plain (B), and Piedmont or similar uplands (C).

This report summarizes the results of a 2020 survey to examine the cost of forestry practices across the southeastern United States. The 2020 survey underwent changes to improve access, the time required to complete, and participation by designing a new format online that allowed more efficient and effective distribution and return of the survey. As a result, the number of usable surveys completed and returned for 2020 is the greatest on record, surpassing the previous high by 80 percent.

For this survey, three physiographic regions in the South were considered: the Southern Coastal Plain, Northern Coastal Plain, and Piedmont regions (figure 1). The results presented are based on 264 usable responses, up from 85 usable responses received for the 2018 survey. Of those, 63 percent were from private family landowners, 16 percent were from consulting firms, 15 percent were from private forestry firms, 1 percent were from publicly funded organizations, and 3 percent of respondents reported “other” for their organizational type. The remaining 2 percent did not list an organization type. Results presented are adapted from the “2020 Cost and Trends for Forestry Practices in the South” Special Report in the November/December 2021 edition of Forest Landowner magazine.

Mechanical Site Preparation

Mechanical site preparation was reported on 86,235 acres at an average cost per acre of $159.75 (table 1). This activity included practices such as shear-rake-pile- bed, subsoiling, and drum chopping. Of the total acres reported, 84,435 included information on the number of passes—single-pass operations was the most common reported consisting of 79 percent at an average cost per acre of $136.08. The cost of single-pass operations averaged 34 percent less than double-pass operations. There were not enough responses to report triple-pass operations.


Table 1. Mechanical Site Preparation Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

All166,418102.01155.83123. 41136.08



Pine seedlings were the only seedling type planted that had enough data to report in 2020. A total of 172,599 acres of pine seedlings were planted (table 2). The majority of respondents (53 percent) reported hand planting, 13 percent reported machine planting, and 34 percent reported both methods. Most of the pine seedlings planted were bareroot loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which made up 72 percent of the total acres reported.

Pine seedlings planted averaged 582 per acre for hand planting and 570 per acre for machine planting (table 2). Overall, hand planting cost 31 percent less to plant than machine planting, and bareroot seedlings cost 25 percent less than containerized seedlings. . The average cost of machine planting bareroot pine species on cutover land was 25 percent more than the average cost of hand planting all bareroot pine seedlings on similar sites.


Table 2. Hand and Machine Planting Costs Per Acre and Cost Per Seedling to Plant

* Too few responses. Overall planting costs per acre do not include seedling cost.

Hand Planting
Cutover land, all pine, bareroot66,45767.0065.7374.3268.820.12589
Cutover land, all pine, container35,59385. 3390.0281.8286.400.15575
Cutover land, loblolly pine, bareroot65,24768.7566.5076.8070.430.12588
Cutover land, loblolly pine, container23,39485.6789.7383.4086.800.16555
Cutover land, all pine102,05077.8674.4076.9975.880.13582
Oldfield, all pine2,368*85.24*80.980.14585
Oldfield, loblolly pine, bareroot1,538***81.140.13604
All hand methods, all pine104,41878. 2976.5275.7676.590.13582
Machine Planting
Cutover land, all pine, bareroot64,21382.21100.52101.6694.210.17571
Cutover land, loblolly pine, bareroot56,99585.10102.47101.6698.800.17573
All land type, loblolly pine, bareroot57,81585.10103.4495.2197.670.17580
All machine methods, all pine68,18183.3999.5696.2994.000.17570


Prescribed Burning

Forty-seven percent of survey respondents reported prescribed burning in 2020. A ground drip torch was used in all cases for a total of 136,456 acres at an average cost per acre of $31.12 (table 3). Regional differences in costs were reported. In general, prescribed burning practices reported in the Piedmont were more expensive than in other regions.


Table 3. Prescribed Burning Treatment Costs Per Acre by Ignition Type and Burning Purpose

* Too few responses.

Ground, drip torchSite preparation29,838*33.7239.4734.76
Ground, drip torchUnderstory control84,96123. 7131.90*29.11
Ground, drip torchAll136,45625.8732.1933.6531.12


Chemical Application

Chemical applications were reported by 53 percent of respondents who treated 280,959 acres in 2020 (table 4). Site preparation, midrotation release, and herbaceous weed control were the top reasons for treatment with the majority of acres (54 percent) treated as part of site preparation activities. Sixty-one percent of acres treated were aerially sprayed. Overall average cost per acre for all treatment purposes and all methods was $77.11 (table 4). Overall, aerial application methods were less expensive than ground application methods. Additionally, average cost per acre was higher in the Piedmont than in other regions.


Table 4. Chemical Application Costs Per Acre by Treatment Purpose and Method of Application

* Too few responses.

Site preparationGround42,57973.1691.40*87.08
Site preparationAerial108,970*79.5485.7784.58
Site preparationAll151,14982.3484.3893.1086.07
Mid rotation releaseAll32,99172.7483.5493.8783.13
Herbaceous weed controlGround47,909***51. 98
Herbaceous weed controlAerial48,142*52.49*55.13
Herbaceous weed controlAll96,05153.8054.3961.8756.09



Few respondents (16 percent) reported using fertilizer as a forestry practice. Those who used fertilizer reported treating 66,082 acres at an average cost of $87.83 per acre (table 5). Aerial application of fertilizer accounted for 72 percent of all fertilization treatments reported in 2020.


Table 5. Fertilization Costs Per Acre by Purpose of Application, Application Method and Fertilizer Type

* Too few responses.



Fire Protection

In 2020, twenty-eight percent of respondents reported using some method of fire protection on 173,375 acres at an overall average cost per acre of $19. 49 (table 6). Protection methods reported included firebreaks, fire plows, and tractors. Primary methods of fire detection included self-observation, forestry commissions, neighbors, and hunting clubs.


Table 6. Fire Protection Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.



Timber Cruising and Marking

Timber cruising was reported by 39 percent of survey respondents. Most respondents (73 percent) reported using variable radius plots at an overall average cost of $12.45 per acre (table 7). The overall average cost per acre for all methods was $13. 31 (table 7).

The majority (46 percent) of the 35,875 acres of marked timber operations reported in 2020 were completed for thinning purposes. Only 27 percent of respondents reported completing any type of marking activity on their lands.


Table 7. Timber Cruising Costs Per Acre by Inventory Purpose and Method Used

* Too few responses.

AllFixed plot186,569*13.91*14.19
AllVariable radius500,38815.409.86*12.45
AllAll687,11115. 8112.1114.4113.31


Table 8. Timber Marking Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.



Precommercial Thinning

Precommercial thinning is often completed early in a rotation and when trees may be in an overcrowded condition. For the 2020 survey, only 9.5 percent of survey respondents reported precommercial thinning on 3,797 acres (table 9).


Table 9. Precommercial Thinning Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.



Custodial Management

Custodial management costs may include activities such as road construction and maintenance, boundary line maintenance or surveys, insect and disease management, or legal fees. In 2020, 86 percent of respondents reported custodial management activities on more than 3.1 million acres (table 10). Due to the increase in respondents who participated in this question, we were able to list acres and cost for multiple operation types. The overall average cost per acre for custodial management should be used with caution due to the differences in costs among a variety of operation types.


Table 10. Custodial Management Costs Per Acre by Operation Type

* Too few responses.

Insect and disease detection and treatment635,542***47.52
Road construction and maintenance1,909,393*125.21102.6498.08
Maintaining property boundaries1,625,779***15.62
Legal fees1,416,067***2.49
All3,112,43536. 4663.4052.8452.25


Figure 2. Percent change in costs of forestry practices from 2018 to 2020 (A) and from 2016 to 2020 (B).

Changes in Costs Estimates

When comparing 2020 to 2018 averages, the majority of costs decreased except for chemical application and timber cruising (figure 2A). Comparisons to 2016 averages show that all costs increased (figure 2B).

Forestry practice costs in the South have been more variable in the last ten years than in past decades. This is due, in part, to the forest industry being affected during much of this time by suppressed stumpage prices. The economy and housing market crash in 2008 put financial pressure on corporate forest products companies. This pressure caused restructuring of many companies into Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMO), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) or to divest of timber-land management of investments completely. In addition, the low softwood stumpage prices during this time likely influenced decisions of landowners and managers that may have played a role in the variability of cost of forestry practices. Compared to 2018, the price for diesel and other petroleum products were less in 2020, which in part, could explain the decrease observed in many of the forestry practice costs. Further, liability concerns and labor issues seem to be impacting costs of forestry practices, particularly in relation to tree planting, timber cruising, and prescribed burning. This should be something to keep an eye on in years to come.


Adam Maggard, Extension Specialist and Assistant Professor, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University

New December 2021, Costs & Trends of Southern Forestry Practices 2020, FOR-2115

LOBLOLLY PINE - fast growing pole wood


Earn Faster Returns On Investment Growing Loblolly Pine On A Crop Circle Tree Farm

Loblolly pine is a southwest softwood tree species grown commercially in Georgia and South Carolina. Loblolly pine plantations feature parallel rows of transplanted trees that are harvested for pole wood every 27 years on average. A commercial crop of pine straw is typically collected and sold every 7 years, the income from which, is used to partially offset the cost of the plantation.

Crop Circle Tree Farms

A Crop Circle tree farm grows loblolly pine in large spirals, where trees are spaced 10 feet apart along a segmented line that forms the spiral. A drone using a proprietary mapping system, marks each spot where a tree seedling is to be planted creating a geometrically accurate spiral, which is essential to accelerate tree growth. A perfect spiral will generate an energy field within the plantation that elongates the cellular structure of each tree thereby increasing growth rate, decreasing time to harvest by as much as 5 years depending on soil and climate.

Plantation Costs

A Crop Circle pine plantation costs $900 per acre with an average planting of 600 trees per acre. Culling every second tree will generate revenue in year 11. Trees that remain will rapidly increase caliper having additional room to grow. On average, trunk diameter will increase two-fold after thinning. Intermittent fertilization will also increase wood volume.

Plantation Timetable
  • Drone transplant 12 inch, 2 year seedlings
  • Collect & harvest pine straw year 7
  • Cull every second tree year 11
  • Collect & harvest pine straw year 14
  • Collect & harvest pine straw year 21
  • Harvest plantation year 22

Plantation Returns

A Loblolly pine plantation earns about $1,000 per culled acre in year 11 from the sale of fence posts.

Pine straw revenue averages $200 per acre in years, 7, 14 and 21.

Harvesting mature wood in year 22 averages $3,000 an acre.

Cost & Profit (100 acres)

  • Planting costs: $90,000
  • Pine straw revenue year 7: $20,000
  • Culled tree revenue year 11: $100,000
  • Pine straw revenue year 14: $20,000
  • Pine straw revenue year 21: $20,000
  • Harvest plantation revenue year 22: $300,000

Total Cost: $180,000 ($90,000 plus harvesting costs and intermittent fertilization).

Total Revenue: $460,000

Total Profit: $280,000

Hire Us

In just 22 years, Crop Circle pine grows 40 to 50 feet tall and 12 inches across at the base. Loblolly Pine is the most commercially planted softwood tree in the United Sates covering more than 50 million acres mostly in the Southwest.

Hire us to build a turnkey Crop Circle Loblolly Plantation in the Southwest.

This southern pine is adaptable to many types of soil and growing conditions. It grows rapidly in sandy loam soils, which is predominant in Georgia, South Carolina and the Florida panhandle. It is grown primarily for pole wood, pulpwood and second grade lumber. Loblolly pine is also known as Oldfield Pine, North Carolina Pine, Arkansas Pine and Shortleaf Pine.

Pine Straw

Landscapers, garden centers and nurseries prefer to use pine straw as a mulch because it remains loose and allows air and water to infiltrate the ground below, unlike firmer mulches that tend to crust over.

Pine straw is the popular as a ground cover because of its rich auburn color and organic properties. Pine straw does not attract many common garden pests such as termites, which are prevalent in the southwest. Pine straw mulch is also high in nitrogen, so as pine needles decompose, they make a great fertilizer. Pine needles are also an excellent weed deterrent and protect bushes and trees from rot. It also retains moisture and protects soil from the drying effect of the hot sun.

Pine straw can be raked and delivered loose by the truckload or baled, delivered and dropped with a truck mounted Hiab.

Pole Wood

Loblolly pine produces the straightest pole wood, which is used for fence posts and utility poles. Cull wood is harvested entirely for fence posts in year 11. In year 22, mature trees are harvested for utility poles and construction timber and lumber.

Loblolly pine naturally grows straighter, tapers less, and produces a stronger, heavier wood than other pine trees of the South. This superior pole wood brings top dollar for utility poles, fence posts, pilings and saw grade timber.

Calculate Spacing Between Loblolly Pine Trees

More Pines

White Pine | Wollemi Pine

The best time to plant pine trees was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now!

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Plants and seeds | RMK

How many forest plants should be planted per hectare? How often should forest plants be planted?
When planting spruces and birches, an average of 2000 seedlings per hectare is planted, the distance between rows is 2. 5 meters and the distance between plants is 2 meters. When planting pine trees, an average of 4000 seedlings are planted per hectare, the distance between rows is 2 meters and the distance between plants is 1.2 meters.

Are forest spruces suitable for green hedges and how far apart should they be planted?
Suitable. Spruce hedge is planted in one or two rows. A distance of 1 meter is left between the seedlings, and if they are planted in two rows, then the second row is planted in a checkerboard pattern relative to the first, and the distance between the rows should also be 1 meter.

Are low-quality plants that are not on sale given away free of charge?
Low-quality plants are not sold or distributed free of charge, this is prohibited by legal acts.

How many seeds are used to sow one hectare of forest?
Seeding is used in the cultivation of pine and, to a lesser extent, birch. When sowing pine manually, the seeding rate is 0. 6-0.8 kg/ha, with mechanized sowing, depending on the unit used, 0.3-1 kg/ha. The seeding rate for birch is 2-3 kg/ha for manual seeding.

How much seed do you need to buy to grow 10,000 spruce, pine or birch trees?
Pine seeds are consumed during band sowing 1.5-2 g per linear meter, after 2 years you can get 60-80 pine seedlings per meter of sowing row, so you need to buy about 250 g of seeds. Spruce seeds are consumed during band sowing 1.8-2.5 g per linear meter, after 2 years you can get 60-100 spruce seedlings from one meter of the sowing row, so you need to buy about 250 g of seeds. Birch seeds are consumed during scattered sowing of 1-2 g per square meter, birch seedlings are obtained 100-150 pcs. per square meter, thus, you need to buy about 200 g of seeds.

What is the difference between seed from a nursery and seed from a plantation?
Seeds from the nursery are collected from the plantings of seed trees, or nurseries, the plantations grown from them are more productive and of better quality. Seeds from the nursery are mainly used for plant production. Seeds from forest plantations are collected in forest clearings and used primarily for sowing forests.

How to sow spruce, pine and birch seeds to grow plants?
Pine trees are sown on the bed in late April - early May in rows or scattered. When sowing the beds along or across, grooves 4-6 cm wide are prepared, a distance of 15 cm is left between the grooves. The seed leaves 1.5-2 g per linear meter. With broadcast sowing, 7-10 g of seeds per square meter are used. Sowing should be covered with a layer of soil, peat or sand 0.5-1 cm thick. Under normal conditions, pine seeds germinate in 2 weeks.
Spruces are sown in the I-II decade of May on a bed in rows or scattered. Grooves 4-6 cm wide are prepared, a distance of 15 cm is left between the grooves. When sowing in rows, 1.8-2.5 g per linear meter is consumed, with scattered sowing, 8-15 g of seeds per square meter are consumed. Sowing should be covered with a layer of soil, peat or sand 0. 5 cm thick. Spruce seeding can be covered with spruce branches or specially made gratings for this purpose. Under normal conditions, spruce seeds germinate in 3 weeks.
Birch seeds are sown in the I-II decade of May randomly at the rate of 1-2 g of seeds per square meter. To facilitate sowing, seeds can be mixed with sand or sawdust. For sowing, choose calm weather. Birch seeds are not covered with soil. Immediately after sowing, the sowing should be covered with agrofiber or spruce branches so that the wind does not blow away the seeds. Agrofibre helps retain moisture and heat. Under normal conditions, birch seeds germinate in 3 weeks.

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