Mike Simonson was born and raised in Panama City and Lynn Haven, in Bay County. He is a state certified building contractor and owner/operator of Simonson Construction. Mike has been married to his wife Denise for 34 years, and they have two adult sons, Phillip and Daniel.
Simonson purchased his first 40 acre tract of land in southwestern Jackson County in 1990. His property was primarily a sand hill habitat consisting of gentle rolling terrain on deep, well drained sands. Originally, the timber on the property consisted of a mix of volunteer long leaf pine and hardwood trees. Simonson’s primary interest in the property was for recreational purposes.
Simonson decided he wanted to make improvements to his land, so he contacted the Jackson County Forester for advice. He was looking for ideas that would benefit both the native wildlife, but also provide future income from timber production. Simonson decided it was time to start over, so he harvested the native timber from the 40 acres, and signed up for the Florida Forest Stewardship Program, which provided cost-share incentives to land owners who initiated a land management plan. With the help of the program funds, Simonson was able to establish a long leaf pine plantation. He has controlled competing hardwoods and vegetation with a 3-4 year rotation of prescribed burning of the property. Simonson’s primary objectives consisted of pine timber production, enhancement of aesthetic and recreational values, and enhancement of habitat for wildlife species which included deer, wild turkey, gopher tortoises, and quail.
This year, Simonson updated his original management plan. His primary objectives have remained the same, however wildlife habitat enhancement is now the top priority, and timber production is secondary. When Simonson first purchased the property, he was lucky to occasionally spot a deer or turkey. Since implementing the wildlife enhancement practices, it is now common to see large groups of deer, turkey, and quail on the property. Simonson has also watched the population of gopher tortoises grow from one or two burrows to approximately 50. He attributes much of this success to the prescribed burning, and mechanical brush control that has greatly improved the habitat.
The farm also has grown from the original 40 acre track to a total of 350 adjoining acres. Approximately 280 acres of the farm has now been established in long leaf pines ranging in age from 1 to 18 years old. Twenty acres of the land is kept in pasture and approximately 10 acres consist of wildlife food plots that serve as fire breaks. Approximately 30 acres consist of wetlands and natural wood lots. The remaining 10 acres is currently undergoing site preparation so that long leaf pines can be planted in the winter of 2015.
Although it has been a lot of work, many days and long hours, Simonson takes great pride in what he has accomplished. The land management changes would not have been possible without the help and guidance of local county foresters like Barry Stafford, and the various cost share programs offered to land owners by the Florida Division of Forestry. What started as a weekend get-a-way spot is now a farm the family takes great pride in!
The Tree Farmer of the Year is selected each year by the Florida Forest Service’s County Forester, Barry Stafford.