A 110-foot, century-old pine tree dominates the horizon on a patch of Fred Greer's Mansfield farm. This tree should have been cut down and sold as timber long ago, but Greer smiles and points up to a fox squirrel nest and says simply, "It’s not hurting me to leave that one tree."
This pine isn’t the only "giant" on Greer’s farm, though. Greer is the sixth generation to carry on the family tradition of cattle and timber production, but his passion stems from finding a balance between creating quality products to generate revenue for his family and caring for nature in a way that will preserve the land for future generations.
Greer is the 2009 recipient of the Georgia Forestry Association’s Wise Owl award, which he was recently honored with at the GFA annual convention in Savannah.
The award is the highest honor presented by the organization for service to Georgia’s forestry community. Nominations come from GFA members and past recipients include Gov. Sonny Perdue and former Allman Brothers keyboardist Chuck Leavell, who operates a tree farm outside of Macon.According to Greer, the forestry industry is the largest single industry in the state of Georgia and produces more gross revenue and jobs than any
other industry in the state. Georgia also has the largest private ownership of forests in the country.
"It’s a huge industry in the state and that’s why I’m so proud to have contributed and extremely honored to receive this award," Greer said.
Steve McWilliams, executive vice president of the GFA, said Greer was chosen from around a dozen nominees. He said the award is for someone who has made significant or lifetime contributions to the forestry industry in the state as well as volunteered through GFA projects and elected positions.
While Greer served as treasurer and on the executive board of the GFA for many years, McWilliams said his tireless dedication to conservation efforts put him a cut above the rest.
"Fred has combined his love and passion for the land with an ability to make it produce," McWilliams said, "while conserving it so it can be used by generations to come."
Greer graduated with degrees from the University of Georgia’s School of Agriculture in 1962 and 1964, and returned to Mansfield to build upon what his forefathers had already established.
Through extensive research, he and his wife Peggy — who he said he could not do without as a business partner and companion — decided to specialize in Loblolly pine because of its ability to resist plant diseases and the quality of wood it produces.
However, because the farm also acts as a nature reserve, Greer understands how species variety encourages diversity of wildlife. Therefore, the farm has just about every species of oak that thrives in the Southeast as well as maple, cypress, fruit trees and fields of wheat and clover.
"This is the difference of just growing trees and being total stewards of the land," Greer said.
Because trees take so long to mature, Greer has ensured that cuttings can occur every five to seven years whether it be young trees for paper pulpwood or older trees for saw timber. However, Greer does not just have profit in mind on his farm.
He has created corridors of forest so that populations of turkey and deer can travel safely from where they bed to where they feed. He maintains forest buffers along the dusty roads of his approximately 1,255-acre property in order to refract poachers’ spotlights. He clears land around large oaks to maximize their canopy for acorn production as well as clear cuts areas to allow blackberries to flourish for wildlife. He keeps giant pines so fox squirrels and red-tailed hawks can nest.
"If you work with the forest, with nature," Greer said, "the output will multiply the input."
Quality tree growth is not just important to Greer, but to many communities around the state in whose government meetings the word "greenspace" can often be heard. Greer has known for years than trees promote clean air and water as they convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and prevent soil erosion and act as pollution buffers for bodies of water.
With aesthetics in mind, Greer also wants everything he produces to improve the quality of life in Georgia.
In addition to his Wise Owl award, he placed second for stewardship in the Southeast region in the 2007 National Cattlemen’s Association awards and also was inducted into the Georgia Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1997.
"What we do is enhance God’s creation with a balance of producing food and fiber," Greer said, "while at the same time enhancing the total balance of nature."