It is every red-blooded, big-machinery-lovin’ guy’s dream — monster machines with huge tires, plowing through the mud of the forest, roaring and clanking as they fell trees, move them about with giant arms, and effortlessly chew limbs, spitting sawdust and chips as they go.

This year’s two-day Mid-South Forestry Equipment Show, held biennially on Mississippi State University’s 8,500-acre John W. Starr Memorial Forest, drew several thousand equipment dealers, loggers, and representatives from a wide array of forest industry businesses for in-the-woods equipment demonstrations, static displays, and entertainment.

It is the oldest outdoor, live logging demonstration event in the nation where equipment manufacturers can operate their equipment under actual field conditions. The show has been in operation for 29 years, providing a grass roots technology transfer between loggers, foresters, and equipment manufacturers.

While the housing downturn of recent years has put a crimp in the forest products industry, timber and timber products continue to be a major contributor to Mississippi’s economy, says James Henderson, assistant Extension professor of forestry at Mississippi State University.

“For 2011, the harvest value for Mississippi forest products was $1.4 billion,” he says. “That was a decline of less than 1 percent from 2010, but was 19.7 percent higher than the $864.9 million value in 2009 — an exceptionally poor harvest year.”

Several sawmills in the state closed in 2011, and a few changed ownership, but there were still more than 100 hardwood and softwood sawmills in operation statewide.

That is only about a third the number of mills in operation in the 1990s, notes David Jones, assistant Extension professor forest products at Mississippi State University. Much of the decline in numbers has been the result of increased efficiency and older mills being decommissioned, he says.