The 2022 N.C. Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year manages timberland for various purposes, including to help meet his family’s future needs.

Harold Swaim and his wife, Wanda Swaim, owners of Lazy S Farm on Windsor Road in Hamptonville, were recognized as this year’s top participants in the N.C. Tree Farm program on May 14 at its annual meeting in Yanceyville.

“My goal is to have about 150 acres (of loblolly pine) in sections of around 30 acres each that can be harvested on a rotational basis,” said Swaim, very much a hands-on tree farmer.

He said this would make supplemental income available periodically for the couple’s children, Lisa Swaim Mathis and Jeffrey Swaim; and grandchildren, Clint Mathis and Michelle Mathis Shore.

Clint Mathis helps his grandfather on the 216-acre Lazy S Farm, which includes the Swaim home, about a mile from the Wilkes County line.

Much of the Lazy S was part of a farm that Swaim’s grandfather, W.W. “Went” Swaim acquired in the 1920s. He grew up there. A portion of the Lazy S that Swaim and his wife bought belonged to the Tulbert family for generations and includes a cemetery with graves of Tulberts who died in the 1800s. As a child, Swaim often led descendants to the cemetery when they arrived unsure of its location.

The Swaim farm has a section of loblolly pine trees planted 35 years ago, another planted 14 years ago and a third planted four years ago.

The time it takes for loblollies to be ready for harvest ranges from 25-35 years, depending on management practices.

In addition to the main harvest, another sale typically occurs when loblolly stands are thinned about halfway through the growth cycle.

Swaim also thins at earlier stages due to natural regeneration of loblollies, a naturally occurring species in Yadkin and parts of eastern Wilkes. White pines are much less naturally occurring there.

“I tried growing white pines in 1980. They didn’t make it, partly due to competition with white oaks that came up naturally,” said Swaim.

Removal of competing undergrowth is needed in early stages of loblollies and white pines due to their shade intolerance.

Swaim manages mixed species timber stands by removing less desirable species, but one challenge was finding a crew qualified to do this work.

His farm includes about 12 acres of mature white oak trees that should bring a good profit one day, but meanwhile they’re a valuable food source for deer and other wildlife.

Swaim and other members of his family hunt deer on the farm. He hosts deer hunts for local youths from one parent households and disabled veterans in cooperation with the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The resulting undergrowth when small sections of timber provide food and cover for wildlife. Swaim also plants wildlife food plots.

With cost-share funding through a Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) program, he established areas with wildflowers and other plants that provide food and habitat for pollinator species.

He has utilized forestry practices such as controlled burning and crop tree release, often taking advantage of cost share assistance through ag agencies. Swaim wages war with herbicides on invasive plant species, including tree of heaven.

Swaim’s experiences with white pines and finding competent people for work he doesn’t do himself, including harvesting timber, illustrate his ongoing learning process he readily acknowledges.

“I knew nothing about tree farming when I started this,” said Swaim, who grew up on a farm, raised pullets for Perdue Farms for several years and is a retired Woodmen of the World insurance representative.

Swaim’s forestry work began about 15 years ago when he and his wife purchased acreage adjoining their farm that included a loblolly pine stand that was nearly ready for harvest.

He embarked on the undertaking with a willingness to learn and try new things.

Swaim said he has leaned heavily on the assistance of professionals from the N.C. Forest Service like Yadkin County Ranger John Kessler, Lance Parker from the NRCS office in Yadkinville, District Biologist Jason Smith with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission; and Amy Phillips, procurement forester with Weyerhauser in Elkin and an N.C. Tree Farm Program inspector.

The N.C. Tree Farm Program is part of the American Tree Farm System, a certification initiative for landowners who actively manage woodlands between 10 and 10,000 acres in size.

It offers opportunities for education, mentoring, recognition, contact with natural resource professionals, business discounts and tools to help manage forestland. A certain percentage of trees farms are chosen at random annually for inspection.

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