Forest Farming Non-Timber Products: Opportunities and Challenges
The cultivation of understory plants and fungi for small-scale forest landowners to realize greater benefits
May 16, 2012–December 31, 1969
Forest farming, the cultivation of understory plants and fungi with economic value, may be a way for small-scale forest landowners to realize greater benefits. The forests are host of a tremendous diversity of economically important plants. Eighty percent of the land base of the Appalachian forest region is in private ownership, and the majority of this is in family forests. These holdings are typically small in size, and maintained for reasons other than timber production. A great diversity of native plant species are harvested for their value in the medicinal, culinary, craft, and other product markets. Most of the plants used for their non-timber values are harvested from the wild, with little or no consideration for the long-term impact on the natural resources. The market potential for many non-timber forest products is significant, but the economic viability of producing them through forest farming is a major challenge. Farming these valuable plants in a forest setting could reduce pressures on natural populations, increase biodiversity and forest health, while diversifying income portfolios. Yet, production methods and yield estimations are challenges that may thwart landowner efforts. Recent government initiatives, such as ‘Know-Your-Farmer, Know-Your-Food, could spur efforts to develop forest farming in the region. Efforts are needed to get forest farming recognized in future government programs, such as the next farm bill. This presentation examines opportunities for forest farming in the region, and challenges that could frustrate efforts to diversify forest operations.