It all started 20 years ago when Mark Davidson said yes to then Lake Waveland park director Mark Ruby.
Ruby asked Davidson, owner of Davidson Greenhouse & Nursery, if he planted seedling trees. Like any good businessman, Davidson said he hadn’t, but he could. And with that a dream of planting one million trees was born.
Now, 20 years later, Davidson is on pace to meet that goal within the next four to five years. Davidson estimated he has planted more than 800,000 seedling trees. In a good year, he helps plant between 40,000 to 50,000 seedlings.
“It has been a dream of mine — a very ambitious one I will admit — but it is getting closer to being accomplished,” Davidson said.
Davidson works with area farmers and district foresters to plant the seedling trees. The program is administered by the Conservation Reserve Program, which is a voluntary program for agricultural landowners. Through CRP landowners can receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland.
The Commodity Credit Corporation makes annual rental payments based on the agriculture rental value of the land, and it provides cost-share assistance for up to 50 percent of the participant’s costs in establishing approved conservation practices. Participants enroll in CRP contracts for 10 to 15 years.
There are a number of requirements the land has to meet in order to qualify for the program. One such requirement is that the rental from the property is only good for up to 10 to 15 years. By that time the trees will be big enough in diameter that land is not going to be likely used for anything but a forest.
Davidson estimated that it takes 70 to 80 years for a tree to grow large enough to used be as timber.
“I support the project for a number of reasons,” he said. “First, we are planting a renewable resource that can help add to the local economy. We actually export lumber and by planting this we are adding to the renewable resource to help build a future economy.”
In order to become involved in the program Davidson had to get creative and build a machine that would help in the process. He found an old steel horse-drawn plow to aid in the process. He still uses it today.
Davidson travels to one of the two state nurseries (one in near Vallonia in southern Indiana and the other up north at the Jasper-Pulaski Nursery), where he picks up the seedlings. The cost of the trees is paid for by the landowner. This cost can range from $26 to $31 per 100 seedlings, depending on the type of trees being planted. The CRP program helps with the cost of the trees to those who qualify.
For Davidson becoming involved with the program has been rewarding.
“I will be honest this part of our business is not the most profitable, but it is probably the most gratifying,” Davidson said. “To know that we are helping build renewable resources, providing places for our wildlife to live and helping to conserve the ground from erosions are all very important issues and every time we plant an area with seedlings we are accomplishing those goals.”
For the most part Davidson has helped plant seedlings in areas of Boone, Fountain, Montgomery, Parke, Putnam and Tippecanoe counties.
So how many trees can Davidson and his crew plant in a day?
“On our best days we could plant 10,000 trees,” he said. “Of course, that would have to be a very flat area and an area with little for us to do but just plant. We could plant up to about 1,000 trees an hour. Normally, we probably do more in the range of 700 an hour.”