Brammer family aims to do it right with tree farm

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family stands on deck at tree farm
The Brammer Family Tree Farm was named the 2020 Ohio Tree Farm of the year. Ryan Clester (far left), state service forester, stands with the family at the tree farm outside Salineville, Ohio. Back row, from left: Jim Brammer, Randall Brammer, Randy Brammer and James Brammer. Front row, from left: Jeannie Brammer, Morgan Brammer, Kaiden Crooms, Preston Willis, Carter Hipsley and Chyna Willis. (Submitted photo)

SALINEVILLE, Ohio — When Randy and Jim Brammer’s father, Roy, bought the 157-acre property in southwest Columbiana County in the 1970s, he planned to turn it into a subdivision.

“The original reason it was purchased was to subdivide it into five-acre lots for a housing development,” said Randy Brammer.

As things began moving along, he discovered the township road running through the property would have to be upgraded significantly to make the project work. It was too expensive, so the development was abandoned.

That property later became the Brammer Family Tree Farm. It was named the 2020 Ohio Tree Farm of the Year by the Ohio Forestry Association for Jim and Randy’s tireless work to be good stewards to the forest.

The family was awarded the prize at the Ohio Forestry Association Annual Meeting in the spring. Typically, there is a tree farm tour in the fall, but this year, there will be a video highlighting the Brammer farm. An on-farm tour is slated for next fall.

Hard work

Ryan Clester, Ohio Department of Natural Resources state service forester for the area, nominated the farm for the award.

“It’s the amount of work that’s been put into this farm,” he said. “The attention to detail. If you give them something to do, they don’t just do it, they do it all the way.”

Jim, Randy and their sister, who lives out-of-state, became owners of the property after their parents died. In 1989, a timber buyer approached them. The brothers wanted a second opinion, so they reached out to Jim Elze, the regional state service forester at the time.

Elze came out to visit the property and gave the Brammers some advice on forest management practices. In their file, he made a remark: “This would make an excellent tree farm,” Clester recounted.

To become a tree farm within the American Tree Farm System, you must have at least 10 acres and have a management plan in place that addresses a variety of things like air, water, soil quality, wildlife and invasive species. An inspector will visit the property to verify the plan’s application.

That was when the Brammers first began intentionally managing the property. It became a tree farm in 1992.

saw mill from 1989
An old family photo from the first select cut on the Brammer Family Tree Farm. submitted photo)

Do it right

The first timber harvest was in 1993. It was an improvement harvest to take out over-mature, damaged or otherwise undesirable trees. They hired someone to drop the trees. But the family did all the other work. That’s been the theme for most of the projects on the farm.

“There’s a doing-it-yourself mentality,” said Randall Brammer, Randy’s son. “This is very Brammer. Why pay someone else to do it when you can do it yourself?”

They dragged the logs out of the woods. They hired a portable sawmill to cut them. They marketed all the parts themselves. Rough-cut boards were sold to a lumber company. Slabs were sold for firewood. Sawdust went to farmers for animal bedding.

“We try to use the whole tree,” Randy Brammer said. “That’s always been our goal. Do it right. Do it the best way.”

There have been five timber harvests and sales on the farm. The Brammers managed three of them themselves. The most recent was a sanitation harvest to combat oak wilt, a fatal disease that can kill trees within weeks and spreads primarily underground through the root grafts.

Randy and Jim noticed some oak trees had clusters of dead or dying leaves in the middle of the summer, so they contacted Clester to figure out what was wrong. Oak wilt isn’t a common issue in the area, but it can do a lot of damage. Luckily, they caught it in time and slowed the spread.

The Brammers are also involved in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Their EQIP contract includes 66 acres of invasive species and grapevine control, 27 acres of cull tree removal and crop tree release and a 2-acre tree planting, Clester said.

That means tromping through the underbrush spraying multiflora rose with backpack sprayers full of herbicide to kill it off and hopefully jump start young tree growth. It also means planting more than 1,000 trees earlier this year in a meadow and planting other fruit and nut-bearing trees.

woman plants trees with machine
Wendy Brammer plants trees from a specialized piece of equipment while Jim Brammer drives the tractor. The family planted more than 1,000 trees this spring. (submitted photo)

Working together

It’s not been all work. There are trails running through the farm. Randall Brammer said that’s mostly what he used the farm for growing up. Riding ATVs, camping, fishing and hunting. Jim and Randy both have small dwellings on the farm to spend time at.

The Brammer Family Tree Farm has even hosted a bit of Hollywood. Some scenes from the 2019 thriller film, “Them That Follow,” were shot at the farm.

Randy Brammer makes maple syrup from trees on the farm. The family is growing mushrooms on logs from felled trees.

Now that Randall is an adult and has returned home, he and his cousin, James, Jim’s son, have taken on more of the work to manage the farm to help take the bulk of the work load off their dads.

“It’s exciting to see what else we can do with this, and working with Ryan and using his knowledge and expertise to see where we can go with it,” Randall Brammer said.

Randy Brammer didn’t even realize all the work and projects they’d accomplished over the years, until Clester laid it all out for him as part of the tree farm of the year award.

Before they both retired, the brothers worked full time and tended to the tree farm on weekends and whenever else they could fit it in. And sometimes even the work doesn’t always seem like work.

“I like doing it,” Randy Brammer said. “For me, it’s better than going to a gym and running on a treadmill or whatever. I’d rather be out in the woods and work and be my own boss.”

He estimated he and his brother did about 90% of the work on the farm to get it to where it is now.

“When Ryan called and said we got [tree farm of the year], I about fell out of my chair,” Randy Brammer said. “Then we started looking at it, all the different things we’d done over the years. Well, dang, that was a lot of work. No wonder, I’m tired.”

The one thing he wishes he’d done differently is get started 10 years sooner, he said.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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