CROSSNORE — The NCSU Cooperative Tree Improvement Program met over the course of a week at the N.C. Forest Service’s Crossnore Mountain Training Facility to discuss the future of the Southeast’s major commercial timber tree: the loblolly pine.

Loblolly pine is grown in large commercial tracts in lower, more eastern parts of the state and is known as a prolific pollen producer, a main culprit of the green haze of pollen that tends to coat everything for a period in the East.

Loblolly is a long-term investment. One growth cycle can last for more than 20 years, and growers are stuck with the plants that result from the seed they purchase at the beginning of a cycle. Commercial loblolly is about to enter its fifth growing cycle as the fourth is closing out.

With such long growing cycles and so much at stake, the Tree Improvement Program seeks to improve yields and reduce time between cycles for better return.

Some factors that affect the quality of a tract of loblolly are the size of the trees and their branches, straightness and resistance to disease.

Members of the cooperative provide the genetic material that is planted on 740,000 to 865,000 acres a year.

Kitt Payn, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University and director of the program, said there are about 32 million acres of pine plantation forestry in the southeast, 80 percent of which is loblolly.

“A lot of people are not aware that you can breed trees like you can breed crops, like you can breed animals, like you can breed any other biological organism,” Payn said.

Payn said trees, like animals, do not respond well to inbreeding, though many farmed crops do. About 60 percent of the loblolly in the southeast are regenerated with the program’s genetics.

The attendees included a mix of representatives from government, universities and private industry, including academics from around the country and international visitors as well.

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