Volume 23, Number 2
The Basis for the Black Walnut Initiative
By Harlan Palm| former Missouri Walnut Council President
About 45 years ago, I bought a small tract of land in Callaway County with white oak on the hills and several uneven-aged black walnut in a pasture along a shallow creek. Since I did not have any cattle on the bluegrass pasture, hundreds of volunteer seedling walnut emerged. Pruning and thinning soon became an annual event.
In 2001, I started helping farmer-landowners by doing Timber Stand Improvement while favoring walnut on EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) contracted acres. These farms were in Callaway County with timber along the Auxvasse, Richland, Bachelor and Loutre Creeks. I was impressed and envious of the size and quality of walnut I saw along those creeks compared to some of mine and most of the plantations trees I pruned.
Superimposed USDA-NRCS soil maps from 1990 and 2007 reveal idled farmland ideal for black walnut management. The Missouri Black Walnut Initiative is here to help: walnutcouncil.org/mbwi/
Some of these awesome walnut trees were 26-34" DBH, remarkably straight and limbless for 25-40 feet. Furthermore, none of these veneer quality trees had ever been touched by man, let alone manually pruned. A couple of the landowners indicated that their father remembered that the timbered area had been pastured or had small cultivated fields in the creek bottom.
Out of curiosity, in 2003 I accessed aerial imagery provided by MU's CARES Imagery. I viewed forested, small fields and pastured land along various creeks. In some instances, I could see random, irregular shaped areas with various sized green spots indicating that something was starting to grow. I could compare the colored imagery with 1990 B&W imagery. The green spots were likely fast growing sycamore, maple or maybe even multiflora rose bushes. This was evidence that the small area had been idled 5-10 years prior.
I super imposed USDA-NRCS soil maps. If it was Haymond or Landes Silt Loam, I got excited as they are the most suited for black walnut in Callaway County. I assumed the landowner had recently decided to discontinue farming the small irregular field or pasture. The following photos were taken in 1990 and 2007 respectively. The soil was mapped as Landes Silt Loam.
Supported by an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and the National Walnut Council, I contacted 24 landowners via the county plat book, courthouse records and neighbors. I showed them aerial pictures of their idled creek bottom area along with soil maps. I showed them photos of my young walnut stand on slightly shallower soils. They were gratified by the compliment that they have better soil. I asked them if they would like to raise black walnut on that idled area along the creek while emphasizing it is the most valuable timber in Missouri. They expressed remorse that they had idled the tract just because it was so difficult and inefficient to get to and to farm the small area with modern large expensive machinery. Some farmers either had discontinued raising cattle or had decided to fence their livestock out of the creek area. Change in land ownership was another reason for an area to go idle.
Most of the farmers would go with me to the creek bottom area to see what was starting to populate. If there were some walnut seed trees growing along the creek bank or edge of the field, we could typically find young walnut seedlings at least 30 yards away as spread by squirrels. I worked 3-7 years with 12 farms on this project.
My experience has been almost exclusively associated with the creek bottoms on just a portion of northern Callaway County. Just imagine how many recently idled sites there may be in the whole county and most counties in the state. There are creek bottom soils in much of Missouri that are well suited for black walnut such as Nodaway Silt Loam in Northwest MO. Avoid creek bottom areas that are subject to more than a day or two of standing flood water. Another landscape setting that is very well suited for black walnut is the deep loess soils associated with the Missouri River.
Reforestation of land in Missouri has been going on for well over a century. USDA-Forest Service data shows that Missouri has more than twice as many walnut trees greater than 5" DBH than any other state.