Conservation Employee Showcase - Nussbaum
Mark Nussbaum, Area 3 Engineer
Some people might claim that Mark Nussbaum is nuts about his trees.
However, Nussbaum, selected 2010 Tree Farmer of the Year by the Missouri Tree Farm Committee, probably would tell you that the 610-acre family farm near Jackson is about a lot more than just trees; it's a hobby, a continuation of a three-generation family operation, a source of recreation, a means to improving natural resources, and a parenting tool.
The farm was a diversified livestock and crop operation until the late 1980s, when timber management started becoming a point of emphasis, Nussbaum says. Today, timber management is by far the main focus. Aside from 60 acres of hay, the rest of the farm is in timber, primarily white oak, red oak, tulip poplar, walnut and black cherry. Nussbaum is also in the process of establishing short-leaf pine trees to a 10-acre ridge top which he recalls his grandfather referring to as Pine Knob.
"We harvest 80-90 percent of what we grow in a 15-year rotation," Nussbaum says. "At the end of a 15-year rotation, we want quantity and quality to be as good, or better, than when we started."
Nussbaum says his goal is to produce high-quality, large timber. Exportation of those logs is his primary market, followed by providing timber for white oak wine barrels.
The major management technique that Nussbaum uses is a carefully controlled burn of timber stands the year before they are harvested. The practice helps to regenerate oak growth. But to protect the trees from damage during the controlled burns, Nussbaum and his cadre of family members pull the woody and leafy debris away from the tree trunks. That task is just one of the ways in which Nussbaum and his wife Sarah include their children, Lizzie and Matt, and a few nieces and nephews in the farming operation.
"We involve the kids as much as we can, for family time and to teach them some skills," Nussbaum says. "It's nice for a family because it's hard to find tasks that kids can do today to teach them the value of work."
To encourage the kids' involvement, Nussbaum established a pay scale in which each worker earns 50 cents per hour for each year they have lived. So 16-year-old Lizzie earns $8 per hour, while her 10-year-old brother earns $5. Gathering acorns and walnuts in the fall is a different matter. For the 18,000 seeds that Nussbaum needs each year to reseed 12 acres, he pays the kids the going commercial rate. Either way, the whole process is incentive driven; no one is ever forced to work.
"My dad's pretty flexible," Lizzie says. "If I need a job, he has something for me to do. It's a nice job. It's always available if I need money for something."
As for Nussbaum, he tries hard to keep the operation from becoming work.
"I hire out whatever I can," he says. "I hire quality contractors and I pay them well. I definitely want to keep it as a hobby. I don't want it to turn into work."
He says he spends only about 5-6 hours each week working on the farm. The timber work is different from what he does in his career as an engineer with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"It's got nothing to do with what I do at work, and I really like that," he says. "I like very much what I do with NRCS, but it's nice to get away and do something different on your time off."
Family activities on the farm range from planting trees in the spring to harvesting trees in the fall. During the summer months, the family uses the farm for its recreational value, including fishing and swimming in a small lake on the property. They also grow mushrooms and blackberries on the farm for personal use, and have enough maple trees to make syrup.
"It's a nice place because we can all come out here and play as a family and work as a team," Sarah Nussbaum says.
Nussbaum says he is proud that in the past 20 years, good management techniques have transformed the timber operation from a maintenance stage to an improvement stage.
And he is proud that the farm has been able to provide skills and a work ethic for his children, as well as a source of income and recreation, all while improving a valuable natural resource.
"I hope that the kids will be interested in taking the farm to the next generation. And if so, we want to have it ready for them," he says.
Nussbaum is nuts about his tree farm, and a whole lot more.
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