Using little more than a teacher’s salary, Lamar Dewberry of Lineville, Ala., has amassed 730 acres of productive timberland, a renewable and sustainable resource that is now paying good income to support his second career as a farmer.
He worked as a high school agriculture teacher for 23 years, long enough to get his start as a tree farmer.
Retired from teaching since 2003, he started full time tree farming that same year. His Dewberry Land timber holdings now include 55 acres of longleaf pine planted two years ago, 120 acres of loblolly with first thinning completed, 209 acres of loblolly pine not yet thinned, 194 acres of hardwood trees, 31 acres growing mixed pine-hardwood stands, 68 acres of leased out pasture land and 21 acres of wildlife openings planted to food plots.
As a result of his success as a tree farmer, Dewberry has been selected as the 2008 Alabama winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Dewberry now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award.
The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga. Dewberry is the first full time tree farmer to be named as a state winner of the award.
His loblolly pines yield about 1.87 tons of wood per acre per year from the first thinning, and his mature loblolly saw timber yields 4.35 tons of wood per acre per year when it is harvested.
When Dewberry first started farming, he raised a small herd of Simmental cattle. However, managing the cattle took too much time that he needed to devote to his teaching career. So he sold his beef herd and planted pine trees on the first tract of land he and his wife Felicia bought. They paid $300 per acre for their first 35 acres in 1983.
Over time, they continued to buy land for trees as it became available.
As his first stand of pines reached the thinning stage, Dewberry borrowed a short-wood truck from his grandfather, and he and Felicia cut and hauled their own pulpwood. They used that money from the pulpwood sales to make land payments on their property.
Cutting and hauling pulpwood was a family affair, with Felicia chaining up the logs while Lamar hauled them to the truck. Felicia still has a scar where a log rolled off the truck and hit the front of her leg. “It was hard work, but it was fun,” she recalls. “Our kids were young then and they enjoyed the time they spent outdoors with us.”
Their children are now grown and married. Their son Nathan works as a youth minister at a church in Athens, Ala., and their daughter Abby raises poultry in Blountsville, Ala.
Shrewd timber investors occasionally buy land and pay off the land with proceeds from the first timber cutting. “We have done that during the 1990s when timber prices were high,” says Dewberry. “My education helped me do that because I knew what the timber was worth. As I walked through that land, I saw footprints from someone else who was looking to buy the same land. I quickly made a down payment and took out a loan on the 140 acres. Even though that was a lot of debt for us, the land had a good stand of saw timber, and when we cut that timber, we had enough to pay off our loan. We then replanted that stand, and we started thinning some of that replanted stand earlier this year.”
Dewberry has received a number of awards for his excellence in tree farming. Some of these include the Wild Turkey Woodland Award, State Tree Farmer of the Year, the Treasure Forest Helene Mosley Award, and he was named as a southern regional finalist for a national tree farming award.
Dewberry is also active in a number of tree farming and related organizations, including the State Tree Farm Committee, Alabama Treasure Forest Association, Alabama Forestry Association and the Forest Landowners Association. He also serves as president of the Clay County Farmers Federation.
Felicia has been a licensed realtor since 1997, and the Dewberrys also own the real estate company she operates, Mountain Streams Realty.
Dewberry’s current goals are to increase his plantings of longleaf pine, a species known for its resistance to wildfire damage, benefits for wildlife and for producing top quality wood. “We’re also trying to get on a rotation cycle where we harvest some wood just about every year,” he adds.
“We market timber two ways,” says Dewberry. “Sometimes, we used sealed bids that are sent from prospective buyers who pay in a lump sum for the timber on a given tract. We also sell on a pay-as-you-go basis, at set prices. With this method, we usually receive weekly payments during harvesting, and the buyer usually has a year to harvest and pay for the wood as set out in the contract. We have a logger we trust when we do this.”
Dewberry’s timber operation also is a certified Tree Farm by the National Tree Farm System. Dewberry says this certification may become important in marketing wood as large lumber-selling retailers begin to buy wood only from certified suppliers.
When he plants new tree seedlings, he aims for at least 90 percent survival. His new pine plantings have attained 90 percent to 95 percent survival rates, despite drought conditions in recent years. He also tries to target the first thinning of new plantings before the trees reach 15 years of age.