Forest Service Reports Will Help Landowners Develop Strategies for Agroforestry Use
March 7, 2018
Asheville, NC — The USDA Forest Service Agroforestry: Enhancing Resiliency in U.S. Agricultural Landscapes under Changing Conditions report comes out on the heels of a report released in February by the USDA FS Southern Research Station that assessed silvopasture in the Southeastern United States. The five widely recognized categories of agroforestry in the United States are: silvopasture, alley cropping, forest farming, windbreaks, and riparian forest buffers. Both of these studies show that the use of agroforestry and the need for the most up-to-date research is crucial in helping farmers and foresters be successful at all scales.
Silvopasture is the technique Chris Fields-Johnson deployed on his Briery Creek Forest Farm, a 300-acre Loblolly pine forest in Scottsville, VA. Silvopasture combines trees with livestock and pasture. Trees can be used for timber or chosen for crop value. The trees also provide shade and shelter for livestock. He planned to manage the plantation for high-value pine timber, but the forest was overgrown with Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese privet, and tree-of-heaven. These invasives require extensive hand-thinning and controlled burning to manage. Fields-Johnsen employs 30 Katahdin hair sheep to help him open up the forest, diversify the groundcover, and keep the invasive species in check.
The national report’s intent is to help landowners and those that work with them to develop integrated agricultural strategies and production systems. "This national report draws upon the most current science and shows how strategies can improve agricultural production and resiliency, especially under increasingly changing environmental conditions," said Carlos Rodriguez, FS Deputy Director, Research and Development.
According to the report, well-designed agroforestry systems increase per-land-unit area productivity and can increase crop yields. Silvopasture systems like the one used on Briery Creek Farm can support livestock production by reducing animal heat stress and maintaining quality and quantity of forage production under warming conditions.
"This science-based report illustrates how tree-based management strategies can improve agricultural production and resiliency," said report co-author Toral Patel-Weynand, director, FS Forest Management Sciences division. "These practices support key nature-based benefits, including crop pollination, biological pest control, and habitat connectivity." The Annotated Bibliography on the Impacts of Size and Scale of Silvopasture in the Southeastern U.S.A. by Gregory Frey, research forester, and Marcus Comer, associate professor and extension specialist, Virginia State University, Petersburg, VA reviewed more than 70 research papers for the report.
"Both forestry and livestock-raising tend to be more difficult to implement profitably at very small scales," Frey said. "We found that the size of silvopasture itself is less important than how the silvopasture fits into the broader farm. That isn’t to say if you have a smaller farm you can’t use some of these practices," he said.
The farmers’ ability to be flexible and to reach out for assistance helped improve success. "Smaller-scale producers can utilize smaller, more versatile livestock like goats and sheep like Fields-Johnson did at his Briery Creek Forest Farm," Frey said. "Smaller-scale producers will need to experiment themselves, but also will need access to information from trustworthy sources like county foresters and extension agents."