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Patience and Partnerships are Key When Growing Trees in East Texas

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Cattle grazing amongst pine trees.

Growing loblolly pines for profit in East Texas takes patience and partnerships. With assistance from NRCS, Mr. Scott integrates cattle with the trees and uses prescribed burning and thinning to help make his operation a success.

ArcGIS Storymap, story and photos compiled by Adele Swearingen, Public Affairs Specialist, Bryan, Texas

Patience and Partnerships are Key When Growing Trees ArcGIS Storymap

Standing in the shade of the pines that tower over Jimmy Scott’s land in East Texas, there’s an overwhelming sense of ease and peace. The outside world grows distant, fenced out by the trees as cattle graze freely on the native grasses and wander, fearless and full of curiosity.

Part of that sense of ease comes from the rapport and warmth between Scott and Willie Holmon. Holmon is an 18-year veteran of the Natural

Willie Holmon and Jimmy Scott have a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.
Willie Holmon (left), an outreach specialist for NRCS in Texas and Mr. Jimmy Scott (right), landowner, have a long-standing relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). He currently serves as an Outreach Specialist for NRCS and is full of admiration for Scott. 

“If there were more people like Mr. Scott, that were good stewards of the land, then I think the world would be a better place,” Holmon says. “Every place would look great, as you can see from his place here. It’s a great place. It’s a place where you want to come out and just sit for quiet time.”

What Scott has done on the land is indeed a remarkable change, and it serves as an example of what can be accomplished with a partner at one’s side, hard work, and a commitment to conservation. 

Returning to the Land

Scott did not have any intention to return to farming after finishing high school in 1958. He had already put in plenty of time on the land.  

“I came up in the cotton fields and the corn field and all that, and I sure didn’t want no part of that no more,” Scott said in his rich, Texas accent.  

Instead, Scott went to Dallas after graduation and worked for General Motors (GM). But after spending time there, he began to feel drawn back to a life in agriculture. He kept the GM job long enough to be able to afford to buy this hundred-acre plot of land in 1973. While he grew crops, like corn and watermelon for a time, he soon turned his attention to ranching.  

Then, in 2000, he switched gears, and planted something that operates on a much different scale to his previous crops.  

“I put pine trees in here,” Scott said. “I put about 65,000 loblolly pines in here.”

In the more than two decades that passed since the initial planting, Scott thinned his trees three times. The first thinning of trees represents the first time a producer is able to make any money from them, and that timeframe is not for the impatient. 

“That is one of the challenges [of tree farming],” acknowledged Holmon, who has been working closely with Scott on his operation. “You have to wait before you get an income from trees. You probably won’t get your first income until about 15 to 18 years when you do your first thinning.” 

While Scott jokes about the creative ways he’s found to reduce his workload, he still puts in a lot of work, driving five or six miles out every single day from his house that he shares with his wife of 63 years, Winnie—even if all he needs to do is check on his gates. 

Winnie and Jimmy Scott, owners of Jimmy Scott Farm in Douglass, Texas.
Winnie and Jimmy Scott, owners of Jimmy Scott Farm in Douglass, Texas.

Usually though, Scott’s work is more challenging than simply checking a gate. Even planting a tree—a seemingly simple task—requires careful preparation and execution to prevent faults that can be costly in terms of time, labor, and investment. 

For example, planting a tree too deep in the soil will likely cause it to “j-root.” This means, instead of growing downward, the tree’s roots curve back up and begin to grow towards the surface, likely dooming the tree to wither and die. Care must also be taken not to damage the taproot during the planting. 

After nurturing 65,000 trees, according to Scott’s estimate, it’s safe to say he is an expert in the process of planting and cultivating trees. Though he talks about his work with his typical modesty. 

“Running pine trees has been good, I save a whole lot of work,” Scott laughs. “You don’t have to feed them, don’t have to come see about them.” 

Scott’s humility is a big part of his charm, but anyone with any idea just how massive the transformation of this land has been will understand massive accomplishment he has achieved. That transformation, though, doesn’t happen with a solitary man, however talented. It takes help. 

Building a Relationship 

Getting to this point has taken a great deal of patience, work, and knowledge, and Scott is extremely thankful for the financial and technical assistance provided by Holmon and NRCS. Even if he admits that he was not that serious about it when he first started his operations. 

“The same year I got started, a guy by the name of George Martin wrote up my first conservation plan,” Scott says. “Put half of it in pine, half of it in pasture. I didn’t pay too much attention then and I went on through the years. Come 2000, I decided I would do that, and I put the whole thing in pine.” Through time, Holmon came into the picture to take over managing Scott’s projects.  

After working together all these years, Scott has nothing but good things to say about Holmon and NRCS.

In the meantime, Scott kept a reduced herd of cattle—about 50 head in total—on his ranch. But instead of being two separate areas of his business, his forestry and his cattle ranching interact in ways that benefit each other, and the land. This deliberate integration of the trees and livestock is a climate-smart conservation practice called "silvopasture". Silvopasture provides many environmental benefits, such as as carbon sequestration in soil and plants, nutrient cycling, erosion control and reducing forest fuel loads, while also providing benefits to the cattle.

“Tree farming helps with the ecosystem,” Holmon said. “It helps as far as the cattle, too. In the summertime they got shade and they’re not hot, so that’s going to help the cow from being less stressed.”

The presence of the cows, in turn, helps the trees and the soil. The cattle graze on and trample down invasive weeds, thus reducing the competition and allowing the trees to thrive. Of course, the cows also benefit Scott in other ways. 

“The cattle have really cut out my mowing up here,” he said with a laugh, while standing in a row of trees, that he’s thinned enough for the cows to comfortably wander through and graze. “I can’t imagine how much it cut out the mowing.” 

“It’s been great working with NRCS,” Scott said. “I don’t mind calling them anytime. I imagine sometimes Willie could get tired of me, but we have a good relationship.”  

NRCS has provided Scott with aid that fits his operation, including forestry management assistance to help with thinning and prescribed burning. NRCS does not conduct the burns, but does assist with equipment purchasing, technical guidance, and connections to outside agencies.  

“The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has helped Mr. Scott with some of his thinning, diversion, and prescribed burning,” says Holmon. 

“Every time I get in a jam trying to do something, that’s who I holler at,” said Scott, regarding NRCS. “Especially trying to keep up with all the programs that they have. The EQIP and all those programs, I try to keep with them. And see if they have any more,” he laughs. “I used to think you’d be putting the government in your business, but I found out it’s the other way around.” 

 A Lasting Inheritance 

“After my trees get big enough to harvest, I’m intending to really go to the house and do something else. Turn it over to my sons. What they do with it, I don’t know, but I feel like I set the example where they can grow pine, they can turn back and re-plant it or run it for cattle, whichever one,” he said. 

Scott has served as an example to more people than his own kin. Holmon said he hopes to be just as hard-working and active as Scott when he is 83 years old. Scott, true to his nature, cracks a wry joke. 

“I tell them when you’re working for yourself, you can’t work too hard,” he laughs. “You work for yourself, you work until you’re ready to quit and you go about your business.” 

Mr. Jimmy Scott, Owner of Jimmy Scott Farm in Douglass, Texas.
Mr. Jimmy Scott, owner and operator of Jimmy Scott Farm in Douglass, Texas.

Mr. Jimmy Scott passed away in November 2022 after this article was written. Mr. Scott was active in the agricultural community in East Texas and earned the respect and admiration of his peers, as well as those who had the honor and privilege of working with him on his operation. Mr. Scott had a true love for the land and the animals he cared for, which was apparent to anyone who visited with him. Although he is gone, he leaves behind a legacy of conservation for future generations.