Kathi and Vince Seiwert of Ashland's Bombadil Tree Farm share a laugh Saturday during Forestry Field Day at their farm. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

ASHLAND, Maine — Maine’s top tree farm is in Aroostook County for only the fourth time in the 67 years of the state program.

Vince and Kathi Seiwert, owners of Bombadil Tree Farm of Ashland, are Maine’s 2022 Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.

Of the state’s 17.5 million forested acres, more than 5 million acres are shared among 86,000 small, family woodlots, according to Maine Woodland Owners. Each year the award recognizes one of the state’s 250 tree farmers for superior stewardship and management practices like sustainable forestry and diversity, which help keep the state’s $8.1 billion forestry industry viable.

Maine Woodland Owners and certification program Maine Tree Farm oversee the competition. In addition to forest management and species diversity, there’s an added component of education and public outreach that judges consider, which gave the Seiwerts a boost in this year’s contest.

“Vince has created superb YouTube videos on logging and tree farming. That’s what put them over the top,” said Tom Doak, executive director of Maine Woodland Owners.

Seiwert’s videos, which incorporate knowledge he’s gained throughout his career along with appearances from various forestry experts, are on Bombadil Tree Farm’s YouTube channel.

The farm’s diversity was also key, said Randy LaGasse, state chair of Maine Tree Farm and a district forester with the Maine Forest Service.

Bombadil has fields geared toward wildlife, sections of old-growth forest and plantations with new and exotic tree varieties, such as Japanese larch. They’ve also done well with public outreach, having opened their farm to the public, LaGasse said.

“Bombadil Tree Farm has been the constant grounding focus of my life since I was a young man more than four decades ago,” Vince Seiwert said when Maine Woodland Owners announced the award earlier this year.

The Seiwerts have owned Bombadil Tree Farm since 1976 and now manage 210 acres of forest land in Ashland.

Local forester Shawn Bugbee nominated them for the award. Seiwiert credited his wife, Kathi, for her inspiration.

“About 15 years ago, I was ready to pull the plug, but thanks to her support and encouragement, I kept going,” he said.

Seiwert also remembered Great Northern forester Ed Chase, who had said a key to helping people with small woodlots do well was obtaining good prices for their products. Chase visited the farm a few years ago, and the two talked about their commitment to good forestry on private woodlots, Seiwert said.

Longtime Maine Forest Service forester Chester Gage of Caribou, who died last year, also served as a consultant for woodlot owners, and spent time at Bombadil Tree Farm.

“I don’t think there is a square foot on the 130 acres of our original parcel that doesn’t bear the footprint of Chester Gage,” Seiwert said.

The 2021 award was suspended due to COVID-19, but the 2020 winners were Drs. Bob Seymour and Jessica Leahy, owners of Wicopy Woods in Sebec. In 2019, the honor went to Don Newell and Family of Newell Tree Farm in Unity/Thorndike.

The County’s last Maine Tree Farmer of the Year was Larry Park of Presque Isle, who earned the honor in 2008. Norman Labbe of Ashland won the award in 1982. Eddie Jalbert of Fort Kent was Aroostook’s first winner in 1969.

The Ashland farm will now advance to the competition for the New England region. That winner will be in the running for the national award.

As has become tradition, the award winners hosted the 2022 Forestry Field Day celebration held Saturday at their Ashland farm.