Top Miss. tree farmer named national finalist
ABERDEEN, Miss. -- Mississippi’s tree farmer of the year is now a regional finalist for the national version of the same award.
Bobby Watkins manages Coontail Farm, a 240-acre loblolly pine plot in Aberdeen used for timber production. The area also has a wildlife-friendly habitat for hunting and fishing.
The American Tree Farm System, a program of the American Forest Foundation, recognized Watkins as its Tree Farmer of the Year for the Southern region, making him one of four finalists for the organization’s National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year. The Mississippi Forestry Association named him Tree Farmer of the Year in 2015. Watkins’ farm gained status as a certified tree farm by the Conservation Reserve Program.
John Kushla, a forestry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said part of Watkins’ work to gain the certification involved working with MSU on a technique known as quality vegetation management, which involves the use of prescribed fire and herbicides to encourage the growth of natural vegetation, namely deer forage. This is one of many collaborations between Watkins and Extension.
“We’ve hosted several courses on Bobby’s land -- mostly thinning, burning and general management workshops,” Kushla said. “We’ve done forestry and wildlife field days there where people who are learning to manage property of their own looked at management aspects. His farm is the ideal model for the balance you want to see between timber and wildlife management.”
The American Tree Farm System uses the award to recognize private landowners who excel in forest management and promoting sustainable forestry.
“Preserving the quality of the air, water and habitat for wildlife is something that has always been important to me,” Watkins said. “The MSU Extension Service has played a significant role in helping me improve the quality of the land that has been so dear to my family for many years.”