Black Walnut Timber Co-ownership
I would like to plant black walnut timber on your land, and split the ownership of the trees between us. I am actively seeking out landowners in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, The Champlain Valley, Southern Maine, and Eastern New York.
Black walnut is eastern North America's premier timber tree. 50-year-old saw logs sell for thousands of dollars. The catch is that the trees take decades to grow, and most people don't think on a 50-year time horizon. I, Harry Greene, was born in 1990. In 2065, I will be 75 years old. I have already planted the land I manage with trees, and my land isn't suited to black walnut timber. I am now looking to plant trees on land that I do not own. Separating the ownership of a piece of land's trees from the ownership of the land itself is doable and reasonable, but the social and legal structures have to be manageable, dynamic, and frankly bullet-proof over the long-haul.
To make this happen, we'll need to set up a corporation to own the trees. I will own a percentage of the shares, as will you. Our percentage stake is negotiable, but we both have to expect a reasonable return on our investment. If your land is currently not zoned in agriculture or forest, planting trees on it may switch the portion of the land to a different zoning, lowering your property taxes.
My role will involve:
Prepping the ground to plant the trees on, including but not limited to tillage, mulching, and fertilization. I will use neither herbicides nor chemical fertilizers.
Sourcing and planting the trees. I use a 1-person auger. I will plant the trees in early spring.
Mulching, pruning, and fertilizing the trees, and all things related to their care.
Managing the corporation's accounts, taxes, and financial reporting. I will be 100% transparent with all books and numbers. You will see and know everything.
Managing the harvest (felling, removal) of the black walnut timber. When the trees will be cut will be at my discretion, meaning that you as a landowner will not be able to decide that you are no longer interested in having black walnut trees on your property after 10 years.
Distributing the proceeds of the harvest to all owners.
What I need from you:
Transparency, honesty, and open communication. Be a good person. If you're looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, don't bother contacting me. It's not worth our time. If you're looking to create an innovative investment that sequesters carbon, enhances biodiversity and ecosystem services, and is generally good for the planet, let's talk.
Dry, open land with light soils that are neither clay nor wet. Loam or sand would be ideal. Landowners who currently have a third party cut hay from an out-of-use field would be a good fit.
Access to the property at all times, always with advanced notice.
50+ years is a long time:
Note that neither of us will own the trees themselves. We will own shares of a corporation that owns the trees. If either of us dies between now and 2065, or whenever our harvest date is, the shares can be willed or sold to another party.
If you choose to sell your land, you can choose to retain ownership in the trees, or sell your shares to the new owner. Independent of the landowner, I will retain ownership of my shares of the trees. If I choose to sell my shares in the tree, you will have the right of first refusal to buy them. If the trees outlive me, I will choose who receives the shares in my will.
We will discuss the planting other other tree species on the property, such as nitrogen-fixing nurse trees to speed the growth of the black walnut. We call these trees "support species," and they can certainly yield value in the mid-term. Below is a sample layout of an acre of black walnut plantation. There are 160 walnut trees to the acre.
Below is a sample pro-forma income statement. The numbers are reasonably accurate, given that we don't yet have site-specific information.
You will still be able to use the land beneath the trees for recreation and/or management-intensive grazing. This is a video of my friend and coworker, Jeremy, and I, playing frisbee in the walnut trials at The Martell Research Forest at Purdue University:
Harry with the black walnut trials at Purdue University - trees planted in 1972