Tree Plantations – Planting for Retirement

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I spent 2 years in Belize, Central America.  While I was there I spent a fair bit of time in the jungles and around logging operations.  The climate is very different from that of Southern Ontario.  They have a dry season and a rain season but it’s always warm.  This is why I decided to plant trees in Belize.

Years ago when I was in college, I took a 2 year horticultural program.  I was most fascinated by the arboriculture classes.  I had thought about setting up a tree farm for years but when I got to the point of planting, some ‘kill-joy’ would steal my thunder by making a remark like, “ya, you’ll be growing those trees for your kids”.  That would stop me in my tracks.  Trees in Canada are a very long-term project and they were right.  I’d never see the money.   Don’t get me wrong.   I love my kids but there’s a good chance that I’ll need money in the future as well.  That comment stopped me for years because I felt that it was more prudent to put money into a Registered Retirement Savings Plan than to invest in my children’s retirement.  Everything would be left to my children anyway so it did not make sense to take a risk and possibly become a burden on them in my older years. Then we moved to Belize for 2 years and everything changed.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a lot of time in the jungle but also driving the country and visiting tree plantations.  There are a couple of large teak plantations in the southern part of Belize.  That is where the itch came back.  I needed to start a tree farm.  I partnered up with a fellow Canadian and started doing research.  The 2 most popular woods used for lumber in Belize are mahogany and Spanish cedar.  We bought a piece of clear-cut land, got some seed and started a nursery.  Our research showed that these 2 trees would grow well on the land we had purchased and that both trees grew about an inch in diameter each year.  That would give us trees with a trunk-diameter of 25 inches by the time I turned 60 years of age.  That was very exciting.  We figured that we should supplement our plantation with some teak although we were a bit far north in the country.  Teak would grow about the same speed in ideal conditions but we did not have those conditions.  We planted about 10 thousand teak.  The wood is expensive and the real bonus with teak is that it regenerates.  A teak tree can be cut down and almost immediately, a new shoot will emerge from the side of the stump growing into a new tree.  This can happen up to seven generations.  That would take care of my children as well.

I would love to tell you that its been all roses since we planted but that would not be the case at all.  The mahogany and Spanish cedar trees have a shoot borer problem that causes the tips of the branches to die.  There seems to be nothing we can do about it except prune.  The teak is growing slower than we had hoped due to the soil and climate conditions.  Our hope though is that the second generation of teak will grow much quicker because the trees will already have established roots.  We have a full-time worker on the plantation that we pay to look after the place and keep it up.  After 5 years the trees should be large enough that they will grow on their own.  Now we wait for the harvest.

I believe that tree planting can be done by anyone and that there will likely always be a demand for lumber.  In current market conditions, I’m glad that I have money in trees instead of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan.  I would encourage everyone to plant some trees for retirement or for your children.  The environment will benefit greatly for years.

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