Clearing Land

We have 30 acres of land to clear, so you can imagine that planning this project has been a big deal for us.  I’ve been through about every option and thought it would helpful to share.

First, we bout the property just after it had been cleared of pines, with the stumps of all those trees remaining in the ground.  Because of the stumps, we bought the land very cheaply ($4000/acre) and it is very good, clean land.  Getting rid of all the stumps and preparing the field for crops is now our job.

Second, we talked to friends, our extension agents and excavators, got quotes and advice for just about every possible option:

(1)  We could leave the stumps where they are, plant grass over and around them and use the land for pasture for a few years until the stump decay.  This attracts many farmers with no money because it seems to be “saving money”–as though they’re out-smarting the farmers would clear them.  What they forget is that 3-5 years of pasture = 3-5 years without 25 acres of crops. 

Let’s say we planted wheat on that 25 acres.  Let’s say the average yield of an acre of wheat is 30 bushels per acre–which is low. That would be a total of 750 bushels of wheat.  Let’s say the value of a bushel of wheat was worth $8.  That would be $6000 per year lost, and $18,000-$30,000 lost over 3-5 years.  So, they’re not “saving” anything in the long run.  In fact, leaving the land as pasture is going to lose them a ton of money. 

(2) We could pay an excavating company to come in and clear everything for us.  This would be the most time-efficient way to do it, but would cost about $1500 per acre.  For 30 acres, that’s $45,000.  Yes, that’s a big chunk of money–but don’t think that avoiding spending is saving.  Business is more complicated than comparing every potential expense to zero.  Zero is never an option.  This option would allow all of us to continue working as normal and making our own money.  We’d have to calculate something like this: 

(a) (My hourly office/management income potential) X (the number of hours I’d spend working on clearing land) = total lost income
(b) +  My time running the bulldozer (free)
(c) +  Renting a D6 Caterpillar bulldozer ($5,500/mo). 
(d) +  Paying for dozer fuel ($240-300/day)
(e) = Cost of clearing land ourselves. 

That would not necessarily be lower than the price asked by the excavator.   Plus, when the excavator is paid…the job is done.  For a busy man with lots to do on all sides, that’s very pleasing. 

Let’s compare the cost of hiring an excavator.   At the end of 5 years, I would have paid $45,000 for the exacavator and have clean land.  Over the next five years, I would have $30,000 worth of wheat harvested.  The difference would be  -$15,000.  By year 8, I’d be turning a profit.   If I left the stumps to rot…I would pay nothing for excavating, but would lose $30,000 worth of wheat over 5 years.  Now, here’s where I think people mess up these calculations.  We have to consider POTENTIAL income as income we SHOULD have.  Yes, at the end of five years, we could say that the man who spent nothing was still at $0.  However, that man owns 25 acres of farm land.   This, then, would be a good he was not using productively.  If this was wise, no one would ever clear land–just wait for everything to corrode and fall apart.  The problem is that we’re mortals and only have so many years to produce and build.  Plus, the guy with no wheat growing has to buy all of his wheat, animal feed, bread, etc.. for five years.  He’s not living for free.  I don’t have time to get into all these numbers, but not spending is not saving.

(3) In God’s providence a third option is available to us.  Our old neighbor Ralph turns out to be an experienced bulldozer operator and he needs work.   I could rent the dozer and pay him to run it while I continue working in the office.  While I haven’t arrived at the final figures, this is going to be the best option.  Plus, it helps a neighbor. 

I’ll post the final details of the job when all is said and done.  We should be working on this before the end of the year.

UPDATE:  Since posting this morning, I’ve had several friends contact me and ask why I’m not using a small-scale stump grinder.  Answer:  I’d never seen one before.  I’ve seen larger skid-steer grinders, but never the smaller scale PTO-driven options.   One is the Stumpster grinder, which costs $6500-6900.   The other is the Woods Stump Grinder, which I’ve seen priced at $3500. but am still waiting on an official quote from our local dealer.  What you need to watch here is the minimum HP required to run these grinders.  The Woods grinder only requires 15HP.  The Stumpsters require 22-40 HP.  We keep a smaller 30HP tractor on the farm, so we wouldn’t be able to run the larger Stumpster model. 

A third option would be to rent a Bobcat with a similar grinder.  The Quick Attach Stump Grinder is a Bobcat attachment.  I’d need to rent both…we’ll see how the details fall out.

Getting closer to a solution.    Thanks, guys.


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2 Responses to Clearing Land

  1. Amie says:

    Mr. Michael, my FIL used a tool that attached to the back of his tractor called a “Stumpster”. See it here:

  2. wmclaa says:

    Yesterday we walked the property carefully and realized the pine stumps were planted in rows 20′ apart. Many of the stumps are already decaying or being eaten away by ants. They range from 2″ to 6″ above ground level.

    The real issue here is not “How do we get rid of these stumps?” but “What exactly do we want to do with the land? If we put cows, sheep and goats on it for a few years, we don’t have to do anything. If we’re going to plant corn and wheat, we can plant around the pines for the first few years, down the rows. The only thing that would require us to clear away the stumps would be if we wanted to run large machinery that was wider than 15-20′–which we don’t.

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