Converting Idle Acres into Land Equity
Provide long-term farm income benefitting future generations.
View color brochure (PDF)
The “Missouri Black Walnut Initiative” is a promotion by the Missouri Chapter, Walnut Council to encourage establishing and managing black walnut growth on well-suited soils. Walnut trees could become a significant source of income for your family and future generations. Well-managed walnut trees are like an investment account for the future. The long-term outlook for future market value of walnut products is very good.
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra L.), a valuable fine hardwood tree, may be growing voluntarily on your best soils in small, isolated areas that once produced excellent row crops. Walnut trees can be established in recently idled areas to produce a cash crop for future generations growing a “woody portfolio” for your heirs!
The increase in width of farm equipment resulted in many small, isolated areas of prime farmland soils not being planted. Those sites can be VERY productive growing one of the most valuable tree species known in the world…Eastern Black Walnut! These trees may be growing on your land already just waiting for your care!
Missouri has 41 million black walnut trees 5” or greater in diameter; more than twice as many as the second ranked state. Twenty percent of all native range walnut is grown in Missouri, with more walnut timber than any other area in the world! And 75% of all native black walnut nuts purchased commercially are grown here as either “wild run” or ”improved cultivars”.
What makes black walnut so famous and unique of all hardwoods? It performs very well in 8 hardwood criteria:
- Wood color and texture
- Steam bending
- Easily air or kiln dried
- Minimal shrinkage during drying
- Decay resistance
- Commercial use, grading, & value
These criteria keep black walnut demand high and world market prices strong.
Walnut saw logs suitable for the sawmill are generally sawn into boards of standard thicknesses. The lumber is then edged, steamed, and dried. Markets for walnut lumber have worldwide appeal. Walnut is used in the production of furniture, interior cabinets, flooring, paneling and specialty products like bowls, plaques, picture frames, and gun stocks.
The very best walnut logs are graded as veneer logs and sliced into thin sheets. The main criteria for A-grade veneer logs are typically a minimum of 18-19” in diameter at breast height (dbh) with at least 8’6” of clear wood (no branches or scars from lost branches or other value lowering defects). As the length and diameter increase, the value of the log increases exponentially. An 18” dbh tree with an 8’6” veneer butt log is worth about $700 while a 26” dbh tree yielding a 12’6” veneer butt log, a second veneer log and two saw logs is worth about $1,800. Veneer logs can be worth ten times more than the price of saw logs. A few hours of care and pruning trees when they are less than 25’ tall can greatly increase the equity in your black walnuts!
Soil Suitability is Critical
The growing site is the most important factor in establishing and managing quality black walnut. Walnut grows best on lower slopes, stream valleys, or isolated areas along a creek that have good soil moisture, deep (at least 60 inches) soil profiles, loamy soil textures, and a neutral pH. Our best sites are deep alluvial soils along creeks and deep loess soils on the Missouri River Hills mapped as “Well-Suited”.
Poor sites are soils with gravel, bedrock, or hardpan restrictions, high water tables, and wetness during the growing season mapped as “Poorly-Suited”.
Fields with good site conditions, full sunlight and no existing tree canopy offer excellent places to begin a new walnut stand or to manage existing walnut trees.
Refer to the Web Soil Survey “Black Walnut Soil Suitability Index” before planting walnut. You can easily produce a map for your farm online to determine if your soils are suitable.
To determine the suitability of your soils visit: https://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov
Growing Quality Walnut Trees
- Look for walnut saplings on recently idled land; plant nuts or seedlings in open areas.
- Exclude livestock from the site.
- Deaden less valuable trees like fast growing sycamore and soft maple so the young walnuts are taller than competing trees and brush for at least 15 years.
- Use herbicides to control grass and broadleaf vegetation at least 4’ around the base of walnut trees for 3 or more years.
- Use herbicides to control grapevines and invasive species.
- Prune during the dormant season to a central leader; ideally, remove lateral branches 1.5” or less in diameter.
- Thin the stand to reduce crown competition. Use crop tree management to periodically release the best trees. Manage the competition!
$$$ What’s Your Walnut Worth?
The value of your timber depends on species, grade, location, market prices, and the harvest season. Trees growing on well-suited soils could be harvest ready in 50-70 years. On a constant dollar basis they may be worth $25,000-$60,000 or more per acre assuming 30 to 35 crop trees per acre at harvest time.
“Missouri Timber Price Trends” shows the regional value of hardwood timber. Using the services of a professional forester when selling your timber can pay big dividends. Always advertise for bids, use a timber sale contract, and schedule harvests according to your woodland management plan.
Managing & Marketing Your Trees (Where to Find Help)
Even with the best soil for black walnut you may need technical and financial assistance to establish, manage and harvest your timber. Help may be available from:
- Forest and Woodland Association of Missouri (FWAM)
- MDC - Division of Forestry
- Missouri Chapter, Walnut Council
- Missouri Consulting Foresters Assoc.
- Missouri Nut Growers’ Association
- Missouri Society of American Foresters
- MU Extension-Forestry
- MU Center for Agroforestry
- USDA Forest Service (FS)
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
- MDC Division of Forestry
- MDNR Soil & Water Conservation Program
- USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA)
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
To learn more about the Black Walnut Initiative:
Funding for this publication was provided by the Brundage family in memory of Scott Brundage