Mid-Missouri Could Develop New Mulch Market

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NEW FRANKLIN - Tis the season for Christmas which brings up images of Christmas pine trees, but one mid-Missouri man has a different vision for the big green wonders.

Ray Glendening is superintendent at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) in New Franklin. He wants to increase the pine straw market. That includes growing pine trees for logging, but also harvesting the straw for some gardening purposes.

HARC is the only producer of pine straw for mulch in this part of the country, according to Glendening. He said, farmers can grow pine trees on unused land, on a hillside, bottom ground or rocky soil. He has high hopes for the pine straw mulch market.

HARC workers have harvested pine straw from its plantation in New Franklin for about five years and average about 200 bails per year.

Pine straw lowers the PH of soil, and most plants like a lightly acidic soil, according to Glendening. It adds nitrogen to the soil when it breaks down and benefits most plants.

Glendening said pine straw has many advantages over the typical hardwood mulch. Pine straw does not break down as easy so you only have to spread it every three years. He said it's also resilient against the rain.

Glendening said on a small piece of land, about an acre, you can get 200 bails about 35 pound each. "If you do the math, 10 dollars a bail retail, you can make about 2,000 dollars an acre," said Glendening.

Glendening said Boonville Parks and Recreation, University of Missouri landscape, and home gardeners purchase pine straw mulch from HARC.

Pine needles begin to drop in the middle of November. This year, HARC workers are trying something different with the straw. "Down south where standard mulch is pine straw, most plantations harvest every other year because it takes too much nutrients out of the soil," said Glendening.

HARC has had enough supply to meet the demand and did not harvest the pine straw last year. Workers hope to see benefits from holding off on the harvest.

Unlike Glendening, some have doubts of the market's success.

"There's not much demand for it at this time," said Rocky Meo, sales associate at Braik Brothers Mulch and Tree Care. "It may pick up, I don't know."

Glendening said workers plan to harvest in the spring.