Chuck Denney (UT Institute of Agriculture)
Majestic oaks stand proudly next to towering pines. Stunning beauty in a peaceful setting - but what’s going on in this still forest is a decades-long research project. This is part of the Shackelford Orchard at Ames Plantation in Fayette County.

Dr. Alan Houston (Ames Platation)
“100 acres, many different species - we have over 22,000 trees under study.”

Chuck Denney
Dr. Allan Houston with UT’s Institute of Agriculture has been watching the growth of several forests, including these genetically improved white oaks that are about twenty feet tall. Soon this stand will be thinned. A red ribbon means a tree is a keeper. High quality seed from these young oaks will be eventually passed along to Tennessee landowners. Dr. Houston is searching for trees that will benefit Tennessee’s timber industry, and still provide habitat and food for wildlife.

Dr. Alan Houston
“What we’re doing is we’re trying to identify the mother tree. That one. That one. Another one here - that we think will pass on genetic traits, the very best genetic traits. They can be straightness. They can be growth. They can even be disease resistance, drought resistance.”

Chuck Denney
These orchards will produce seedlings genetically improved to grow faster. Researchers here are also studying growing and planting conditions for trees - so landowners can choose the variety they think will work best for them. This practice is called precision forestry. Work going on at the Shackelford Orchard highlights UTIA’s 50th anniversary of its tree improvement program. A lover of nature and beautiful hardwoods, Margaret Finley Shackelford left a significant portion of her estate to fund projects like this. Researchers at Ames say because of this generous gift - over one million dollars - they’ve been rewarded with increasingly productive orchards.

Dr. Scott Schlarbaum (UT AgResearch)
'Right now we’re starting to thin a couple of the orchards, so we anticipate acorn production in several of the orchards to occur in the next few years - and that will be the beginning of the payoff of this.”

Chuck Denney
In a few years these young trees should look like this - giants reaching for the sky. But what’s also growing at the Shackelford Orchard is knowledge that will benefit Tennessee land owners. And that’s the absolute best thing we can have to manage and preserve our precious forests


NOTE: You can learn more about this project at