Farmers may be sitting on a crop they've never even noticed: timber.
"It's hard to convince a farmer that trees are truly a crop," said Paul Noll, who owns Noll's Forestry Services Inc. in Loretto and is on the Cambria County Farm Bureau forestry committee. "Everything's annual for them, and these aren't. They do consider it of value, of course, but it's just not something they see as much as they do the other (crops)."
Now, plans are under way to form a group for all woodland owners in Blair County - including farmers. The group would hold educational workshops and seminars, advocate for the interests of private forest landowners and provide an opportunity for landowners to get to know each other, said Mark Maser, assistant forest manager at Gallitzin State Forest, based in Cambria County.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Mark Maser, assistant forest manager at Gallitzin State Forest, documents measurements on an elm tree Thursday near the Blair Forest Fire Station in Duncansville. Maser is organizing a group for private woodland owners in the county.
Maser said the idea has been in the works for a long time, but it wasn't until this past fall, when both the Tyrone and Altoona water authorities were trying to save their hemlock trees from an invasive insect, that he started to organize.
"It was a good example of two different woodland properties facing the same issue," Maser said, "and the need to share information on how to address the problem ... gave me the idea to maybe try to start the organization."
A similar organization, Woodland Owners of Centre County, has been around for about 15 years, said Jim Walizer of Bellefonte, a semi-retired beef farmer who's a WOCC board member.
As both a farmer and a woodland owner, Walizer said he understands why there aren't many farmers in WOCC: they just don't have the time. Noll said the same is true of the farmers he works with in Cambria County.
"They're more interested in growing cows and crops," Walizer said. "They work seven days a week."
But it's something farmers should take an interest in, Walizer said, especially when it's time to sell.
"Farmers don't get as much money as they should," he said. "They know what a cow's worth and what a bushel of corn's worth, but they don't know what a tree's worth, and if somebody comes in and offers them money, they think, 'I can use that.'"
Walizer's advice to farmers selling their timber: "Bid it out ... don't just sell it to some guy who comes along." He said he's seen differences of $30,000 and more between top and bottom bids on timber.
It's information like that that woodland owner groups distribute, Walizer said. Noll is a board member of Allegheny Mountain Woodland Associa-tion, which serves Blair and Cambria counties. He said they've done several programs, on topics such as how to plan a timber harvest and chainsaw safety.
Though AMWA serves Blair County, Noll said only 13 of the group's 70 members are from Blair County.
"All counties should have their own woodland owners' association," he said, "for distance reasons."
The educational services can be invaluable, said Loretta Radeschi, past president and board member of Woodland Owners of the Southern Alleghenies, which serves Bedford and Fulton counties.
It was through WOSA that she and her husband learned how to properly harvest the timber on their 45 acres of woodland.
Information like that makes woodland owners' groups crucial, Noll said.
"It's a family asset, a real estate asset and a community asset," Noll said. "A healthy forest has many, many benefits for wildlife; it cleans the air; it improves water quality. .... Education is key to all of those issues forest landowners are dealing with."