Burning brush.

Adding acres, the pioneer way

It’s still cheaper to clear land you already own than purchase farmland.

Sixteen months ago, dad began work to clear a small woods on the edge of one of our fields. Work had stalled all last spring, summer, and fall. Snowfall this week provided a buffer that allowed us to burn the brush piles left over.

After the embers cool, it will still take quite a bit of time to rake and level the land in order to make it fit to farm. I can’t imagine how the settlers did it without modern equipment. Even with a decline in land values, it still remains less expensive to clear land (that you already own) than it is to purchase land. We have seen this happen several times in our area the last few years.

So, before readers become upset, let me explain the process we went through before clearing began.

We purchased the farm about 20 years ago. Over that span, the woods was evaluated several times by professionals. Unfortunately the woods was grazed by livestock years ago. Therefore, undergrowth was lacking. Trees of value were harvested, but in terms of returns, the woods was doomed to underperform.

We also contacted the NRCS for a determination on the woodland. It isn’t worth risking federal programs to clear land. Most of the land was ok to clear. However, there is a small area that was declared wetland that we left alone.

Harvesting firewood
Before we burned the leftovers, several neighbors cut firewood out of the piles. On this particular farm there is also about 35 acres of land that remains in woodland. So there remains wildlife habitat.

In a side note, I recently read that U.S. farmland was reduced by 1 million acres from 2015 to 2016. Frankly, this number shocked me. Especially given that economy has still been slow. So, obviously converting land to farmland has had a negligible impact.

As far as the project goes, all we have in it so far is the rental of an excavator for a couple weeks. We’ve also got some man hours and fuel. Now that we are burning the piles we’ll put some time on the wheel loader. Quite a bit of time will be spent raking the land. We use an old chisel plow and field cultivator with the shanks slid together in order to gather and sticks and roots that may be left over. Hopefully we will get a crop off of the land this year. 

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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