The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is making sure there will be enough trees to plant millions of them in the coming years and the effort is paying off for local businesses and streamside buffers in Pennsylvania.
CBF, which coordinates the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, is spending about $2.6 million for 710,000 trees, shelters, and stakes to supply plantings through 2022.
Growers and related businesses in Pennsylvania and Maryland that provide trees, shrubs, and materials get guaranteed revenue through this forward contracting. The partnership is assured to get the variety, quantity and quality of trees, shrubs, and materials it needs to continue its drive to plant 10 million trees in the Commonwealth by the end of 2025.
Since 2018, cumulative efforts by CBF, the partnership, and others across Pennsylvania have planted roughly more than 1.74 million trees. The partnership is made up of 147 national, regional, state, and local partners.
“A 30 percent down payment to growers gives them the economic assurance that we are invested in these trees, and in them as growers,” says CBF’s Brenda Sieglitz, who manages the partnership. “It allows growers to go into this uncertain time with a really strong guarantee to deliver trees for the next few years. It also allows them to expand their operations for the future and be able to make new investments that might otherwise be more risky.”
CBF issued requests for proposals (RFP) and awarded bids to seven companies for a total of 210,000 trees, stakes, and shelters for next year. RFPs for trees have been issued for single years since 2018, but contracting two years ahead to 2022, is unique for CBF.
Four companies were awarded future contracts for a total of 500,000 trees for 2022. Those companies are Aquatic Resource Restoration Company in York County, Musser Forests of Indiana County, Octoraro Native Plant Nursery in Lancaster County, and American Native Plants in Middle River, Baltimore County, Md. All four companies were also among the seven that received contracts for next year.
“It helps with structure and provides some certainty outside of acts of God and crop failure,” Octoraro President and Co-owner Jim Mackenzie says of the contract for 2022. “It provides some assurances for both parties and that is a big deal. That by itself is important.
“We are definitely going to have to add some production space to accommodate the 2022 contract, which we were already in the process of, but now we are going to accelerate that process,” MacKenzie adds. “It also allows us to go out and procure materials that may be less expensive right now.”
Octoraro’s workforce is 45 strong in spring and Mackenzie would not rule out the need to add employees.
Striking deals for 2021 and 2022 allows the family-owned Aquatic Resource Restoration Company to reach for some of its goals. Vice President Nathan Irwin says the company would like to push its native nursery in Glen Rock, Pa., to maximum capacity, from about 200,000 native trees and shrubs up to 500,000. “If we have to expand, we’ve had conversations of acquiring more land to grow our nursery operation,” Irwin says.
Aquatic Resource may add to its 45-person workforce next year.
In Maryland, American Native Plants finds forward contracting to be extremely helpful in planning its production facility in advance and some expansion may be on the horizon.
“I would expect that when we get down to it, we will have to add capacity as a result of this order, probably a year from now in order to stay ahead of what we need to do,” President Mike McConnell says, adding that the new contracts could also mean job growth for its year-round staff of 15.
“We have three fulltime, year-round ladies that work in propagation, and we supplement them with our other field team members to help,” McConnell adds. “I would expect that we will have to add at least one or two people a year or two from now to cover the increase that we are going to have to do.”
The security of CBF’s forward contracting made the latest RFPs attractive to a conservative industry still affected by the housing crisis of 2008 when there was little need for nursery stock and services.
“We were a little overconfident in the early 2000’s and there was a lot of plant material available. Many of the larger nurseries were highly leveraged and they decided to borrow money,” says Gregg Robertson, Government Relations Consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association. The agency represents garden centers, wholesale nurseries, greenhouses, and landscape contractors. “We lost a lot of nurseries that had been in the business for generations. The ones that remained did so because they were fiscally very conservative.”
Robertson says the industry, as with other agriculture, is a roll of the dice. “It doesn’t matter what you are growing, you are dealing with nature and you are dealing with markets that may change,” he adds. “To the extent you can provide any sort of stability or certainty to that marketplace, that’s going to benefit buyers and sellers.”
The positive, economic ripple effect of forward contracting extends beyond the companies awarded bids for seedlings.
“The contractors that our partners pay to do the planting work and the maintenance contractors caring for these planting sites, in the future will benefit,” Sieglitz adds.
The new contracts will also increase the diversity of native trees for planting. “We like to see our plantings have a mix of a minimum of 10 species per acre,” Sieglitz adds. “That 10 species spread out among 200 trees gives us a great ecological wildlife benefit.”
“To me the benefit of the forward-contracting is CBF gets to lock in the plants that they want, when they want them, and allows us to plan our production schedules with much more clarity and certainty,” Jim Mackenzie says.
CBF responded to input from statewide organizations and is asking for trees that are hard to find.
“The diverse tree selection is able to siphon off nutrients and hold back sediment,” says Bill Chain, CBF Senior Agriculture Program Manager in Pennsylvania. “But trees are also pollinators that contribute to wildlife habitat.”
CBF launched the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership in 2018, focused on Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Blueprint goal of planting 95,000 acres of forested buffers by the end of 2025.
Amid COVID restrictions, 84,000 of 95,000 trees distributed for spring planting in 2020 went into the ground. The remaining 11,000 trees are being kept in partner greenhouses and will grow into larger stock for future plantings.
For fall plantings about 47,000 trees are being delivered in September to pick-up points. Because of spring cancellations, the fall 2020 number of trees is more than double what was planted in fall of 2019.
Adding 10 million new trees alongside streams, streets, and other priority landscapes in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Bay watershed would accelerate the Keystone State as much as two-thirds toward the 95,000-acre target.
Trees are among the most cost-effective tools for cleaning and protecting waterways by filtering and absorbing polluted runoff, stabilizing streambanks, and improving soil quality. Placed in parks, municipal properties and other urban and suburban settings, trees absorb and clean stormwater, reduce flooding, and help restore abandoned mine land.