Agroforestry - Forest Management: Sustaining Small Farms - Creating Learning Communities in the Northeast

Final Report for ENE00-057

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $128,742.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $77,922.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Louise Buck
Department of Natural Resources
Co-Leaders:
Marianne Krasny
Cornell University
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Project Information

Summary:

The project has advanced the knowledge and practice of forest farming, an agroforestry system that is particularly suitable for Northeastern North America. Forest farming involves the manipulation of forest lands to provide a regular supply of food, medicinal, ornamental and other non-timber forest products. It can diversify farm incomes and provide an economic incentive to manage private forest lands more intensively and sustainably. The majority of farms in the Northeast include substantial acreage of woodland, which is characteristically underutilized as an economic resource. Forest farming can help generate short, medium and long term economic value from these assets, while promoting forest health. The project was designed to help overcome the limited knowledge base associated with forest farming, and improve professional capacity to provide education and technical support services in this domain.

A social learning approach was used to conceptualize and facilitate the development of a forest farming learning community. The learning community (LC) engages small farm operators, private woodland owners, and local learning facilities (schools, nature centers cooperative extension demonstration sites), in cooperation with professional and volunteer educators and scientists, in establishing and evaluating trial forest farming practices. Workshops, electronic media and site visits are used to facilitate communication and share information among learning community members. The learning community has brought about a new culture of forest farming in the Northeast that is ripe for expansion.

Project Objectives:
  • 40 Extension and other educators and 10 key growers from the Northeast will participate in an agroforestry workshop

    40 farmers in the Northeast will implement 80 trials

    400 farmers will participate in local demonstration tours and workshops related to project activity

    80 growers will implement AF practices demonstrated through field trials

Introduction:

The project facilitated the development of a Northeast forest farming learning community (LC). The LC is comprised of 113 landowners, 41 educators and 12 facilitators working together to improve the knowledge and practice of forest farming. LC members are concentrated in New York and Pennsylvania, however membership spans 11 states. Each educator cooperates with a minimum of two landowners, which may include schools, nature centers or similar organizations with many members, to establish and monitor trial forest farming practices. Approximately half of the educators also established forest farming trials on land that they own or manage and, like many of the cooperating landowners, use the sites for demonstration. Three of the facilitators also assumed educator and/or landowner roles, which helped cement linkages among different elements of the community.

Each educator participated in at least one of three project-supported workshops to learn about agroforestry, forest farming and associated methods and techniques. About one half participated in two of the workshops, and a quarter in all three. Educators in turn demonstrated to land owners the “hows and whys” of forest farming, and helped them establish their trial practices. Educators and landowners agreed to record information on the establishment and maintenance costs of forest farming, and on plant performance indicators. The educators agreed to submit these data to the project facilitators for analysis. About two thirds of LC members have submitted all of these data. On-going communication between educators and facilitators occurs through a project list-serve. A project web page extends information to a broader audience. Project facilitators made site visits to selected teams of educators and cooperators for interviews, observation and photo-documentation.

Presently the learning community supports the following practices: 64 American ginseng plots, 40 goldenseal plots, 19 mushroom trials on logs or woodchips, 46 improved (sweet tree) maple plantings and 7 crop tree management trials. Baseline information on the trials has been established for evaluating their on-going performance, and some data analyses have been performed on early seasons of growth. Lessons learned to date have been summarized and presented in a variety of forums. Numerous follow-up workshops and field days have been conducted by participants in the learning community based on knowledge and information that has been compiled and generated through the activities of the group. We estimate that between 2,000 to 4,000 landowners have participated in second-generation forest farming training activities that educators and facilitators have spearheaded based on information generated by the project. Between 500-600 of these have participated directly in on-site tours of participating landowners’ trial plots. Numerous additional landowners have been reached with information about forest farming practice that stems from project activity through the project web site as well as list-serves, newsletters, and membership group meetings facilitated by members of the LC. There is significant expressed interest by educators and landowners throughout the Northeast region in joining the learning community.

Post-project resource constraints limit on-going activity in its current format. Therefore modifications are being sought that are efficient and cost-effective in the long run. These include the development of a web-based forest farming curriculum for educators and landowners. On behalf of its members, LC leaders are seeking support to develop an on-line course that would be usable on a stand-alone and an instructor-led basis. Partial funding has been obtained for a distance learning module will optimize the use of web-based interactivity. LC members anticipate that educators will use the course as an instructional tool to help them develop regionalized, smaller-scale LCs that will continue to innovate and expand the promising field of forest farming practice. This strategy would reduce the cost of university-based facilitation while optimizing its coordination role across regional, educator-led LCs including the analysis and distribution of information.

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Publications/Outreach

Project outreach has occurred principally in the form of presentations about forest farming and the forest farming learning community at landowner workshops throughout the region by LC educators and facilitators. It has also occurred through on-farm tours and field days hosted by LC landowners, and the project web site which includes a “getting started” package of information on how to establish and manage forest crops.

These efforts have reached between 2,000-4,000 farmers in the region. Given the high level of enthusiasm of these audiences, their apparent motivation to try the practices, and the low entry costs of most of them, we estimate that half, or some 1,000-2,000 landowners have tried forest farming practices in their farms and forests as a direct result of these exposures.

In addition, between 27-30 of the educators involved in the learning community, or 2/3, of them have incorporated forest farming activities into their on-going agriculture and natural resource programs. Furthermore, the LC is a focal point for the Cornell Cooperative Extension Program Work Team (PWT) on Agroforestry and Private Woodland Management. This group of some 30 membership group and business leaders, scientists, educators and other stakeholders in forestry and agroforestry extension programming in New York and the Northeast sets priorities and makes recommendations to the Cooperative Extension Administration at Cornell University for allocating resources to applied research and outreach initiatives. The two proposals for support from this PWT that were forwarded to this body this year have support for the Learning Community at the center. If either is funded, the project’s outreach capacity is likely to become institutionalized. A project has been funded that will enable us to put the core forest farming curriculum on-line for use by extension educators and landowners throughout North America. We can conclude that the project’s impact, through multiple outreach levels and channels, is notable and growing.

We are preparing two manuscripts for publication. One is aimed at an extension audience through the Journal of Extension (JOE), and another will be submitted to an academic journal yet to be determined. Society and Natural Resources, Agroforestry Systems and Sustainable Forestry are candidate journals.

Proceedings of project training workshops and conferences are published as follows:

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County, 2000. American Ginseng Production in the 21st Century. Conference Proceedings. September 2000. Cairo, NY.

Department of Natural Resources, 2001. Agroforestry and Forest Management Learning Communities Workshop, April 24-26, Arnot Forest, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Mohawk-Hudson Resource Conservation and Development Council, 2001. Northeast Agroforestry and Carbon Conference, October 2-4, 2001. Presentations. Best Western Binghamton Regency, Binghamton, NY. Norwich, NY

Performance Target Outcomes

Outcomes

We can verify that we have reached and exceeded three of our four project objectives (see Section 2, Performance Targets). We expect we also met and exceeded the fourth, but have not invested resources to confirm the number of growers who implemented agroforestry practices as a result of exposure to the field trials.

Specifically, 45 extension educators and 12 facilitators from 11 states in the Northeast, who also included 10 key growers, participated in workshops through which they developed an understanding of specific agroforestry and forestry practices. Table 1 identifies the types of organizations that the educators in the LC represent. Table 2 indicates how the total number of LC members are distributed throughout the northeastern states.

For each practice participants learned how to: a) implement the practices on farm, b) measure its performance, c) consider its long term agroecological sustainability, d) evaluate its economic feasibility, d) assess markets for sale of the products, e) market the products. Of the 45 educators trained by the project, 41 have remained associated with the LC. The training curriculum, which was designed specifically to address these topics, is documented in the proceedings of the three workshops/conferences (see Section 4, Training, and Section 8, Publications/Outreach)

While the project objectives called for establishing trial practices with 40 farmers, in practice some 113 landowners established trials, as follows: 51 small farm operators, 41 private forest owners, 8 educational organizations, and 13 landowners who classify themselves as neither forest owners nor farmers, but as prospective maple producers or peri-urban landowners with patches of trees. It was intended that landowners would establish 80 trials on farms, an average of 2 each. In practice the 113 landowners established 176 trials as follows: 64 ginseng, 40 goldenseal, 19 mushroom, 46 maple, 7 crop tree management. Table 3 summarizes these figures. As anticipated, these landowner-managed trials are contributing to our knowledge of the productivity, economic feasibility, marketing and agroecological sustainability of specific agroforestry practices through monitoring data on the trials, on-site interviews and electronically mediated learning activities. Time and program continuity are required however, before conclusions can be drawn about these relatively long-term crops and practices.

The project sought to expose some 400 educators and farmers to project activity and information through local demonstration tours and workshops, and through access to project materials. This exposure would enhance their understanding of agroforestry production, economic feasibility and marketing. In practice, we estimate that considerably greater numbers of educators and landowners have become familiar with forest farming knowledge and practice through second-generation training activities. Specifically:

1) According to LC educator reports, by the end of the second year of the project about half of the 113 participating landowners including all 8 of the educational organizations had conducted formal or informal walks, tours and demonstration days at their sites. We expect that more have done so at the time of this writing some 9 months later. Assuming very conservatively an average of 10 persons attending each of 60 such activities we estimate that at least 600 people have viewed forest farming practices and accessed project information by this means. (While some farmers involve only a handful of friends and neighbors in their tours, several educators in the LC are also “cooperating” landowners who conduct group training activities on a regular basis as part of their livelihoods. Five of these have reached 25 or more other landowners through on-farm tours and demonstrations).

2) All 20 of the Cooperative Extension educators involved in the project have incorporated information obtained through the project into their extension/outreach programs. Ten of these have conducted landowner workshops that include information on forest farming/agroforestry practices, which together have reached more than 1,000 people. Over half of the 21 other public sector, private membership group and volunteer educators also have conducted workshops that focus on or include information about forest farming practices which collectively have reached another 500 landowners.

3) Several of the facilitators are also educators who operate in various public and private sectors capacities. These seven project team members have become deeply engaged in advancing the knowledge and practice of forest farming. In this capacity they regularly organize training activities and conduct workshops for other educators and for landowners, give presentations to a wide variety of audiences, manage list serves, contribute to newsletters and make site visits. We estimate that a minimum of 2000 additional educators and landowners have been reached with project information by these means, while the number may be as high as 4,000.

4) The project web site, which contains a “forest farming start-up package” of information about understory cropping, maple and crop tree management is probably frequented by a variety of users. The URL for the web site is widely distributed by facilitators and educators at training events in which they participate. Furthermore the site is linked to related sites on private forest management, maple production and agroforestry that are managed by facilitation team members. Registration is not been required to enter the site in order not to limit possible interest. Nor did we establish a mechanism for recording hits since we would not be able to differentiate LC members from external users. Thus we are not able to determine who has used the site and how often.

In sum, we estimate that about 4,500 educators and landowners in the Northeast (including states that have not been directly involved) have participated in project related demonstration tours, workshops and presentations. The majority of these have accessed project materials that have enhanced their understanding of forest farming production practices and marketing feasibility.

We do not know how many growers have implemented agroforestry practices that have appeared to them as sustainable through the field trials specifically. Given the exceptionally high level of expressed interest in American ginseng production by landowners who are exposed to this practice however, we anticipate that more than the 80 growers targeted for this activity have established ginseng trials, alone. In order to determine how effective the farmer-managed field trials have been in stimulating grower interest in trying the practices however, we plan to use the listserve to ask educators to monitor this with their landowners in the coming season. Specifically, cooperating landowners will be asked by their corresponding educator how many potential growers have viewed their trials, and how many of these have expressed interest in trying one or more of the practices. With this information, which will be posted on our web site, we can roughly estimate how many are likely to have actually tried the practices.

The number of farmers who have been reached by the project are reported above (see Section 5, Milestones). One hundred and thirteen (113) landowners (farmers, forest owners, local educational organizations and other residents) have been directly involved in establishing 176 trial forest farming related practices. (See Table 3.) In turn, this group has helped at least another 500 landowners learn about forest farming through demonstration tours on their land. We estimate that about half, or 250 of these have tried forest farming practices themselves. Through attendance at workshops and field days organized by project educators, at least another 2,000 landowners, and perhaps as many as 4,000 have been reached with information and materials on forest farming that the project has generated. We estimate that at least 1,000 of these have tried at least one of the practices.

Equally significantly, 41 agriculture and natural resources educators from numerous organizations in 11 states are knowledgeable about forest farming as a type of agroforestry practice that can benefit farmers and forest owners throughout the region. (See Table 2.) These educators are motivated to share knowledge, information and ideas with one another, with subject matter specialists and with educators and landowners in their respective knowledge networks, which accelerates understanding of forest farming practices and potential within the region, and expands the web of learning.

A dynamic forest farming culture has emerged from the project that has numerous manifestations. Forest farming has entered the parlance of Extension education systems in the region and is widely recognized as a practice that has potential to add value to small farms and to bridge income generation and natural resource conservation interests. Forest farming is now on the agenda of landowner workshops throughout the region that are sponsored by a variety of membership groups and public organizations to help farm and forest owners make a better living from the land. Members of the forest farming learning community (FFLC) that the project established commonly conduct such workshops, or are invited to speak at them. A regional Agroforestry Learning Center has been established in the Catskill Mountains of NY with a combination of public and private funding through a partnership of numerous organizations that are allied with the project. The Center will emphasize forest farming in its curriculum, and draw on many LC members to deliver course content to college students, public leaders, public educators, landowners and other residents. A national web-based learning module on forest farming is being constructed with support from the USDA based on the FFLC training curriculum. As the concept gains attention and acceptance, we can anticipate that innovation in this emergent domain will advance.

Beyond these key indicators, it is useful to examine project outcomes in terms of the viability of the forest farming approach to improving income-generating management options for farmers and forest owners, and the viability of the learning community approach to inventing and expanding economically and ecologically sound forest farming practices. We consider these in turn, below.

* An underlying premise of the project is that because forest farming practices take several years to mature, monitoring and on-going analysis are needed to help assess performance, guide future activity and anticipate outcomes. Therefore the project invested considerable resources in developing monitoring protocols and facilitating the use of them. In time the analysis of these data in concert with on-going assessment by LC members through electronic media and personal interaction, should indicate how farmers, forest owners, local educational organizations and other landowners have changed and, hopefully, benefited.

* A further premise of the project is that learning communities (LC) are relatively new and untested in concept and practice. Because, ultimately, our LC is only as useful as its members believe it is, we have sought to engage the LC actors in determining its viability. The facilitators have engaged the educators in defining what a forest farming LC is and should be, contributing intellectual resources to its development and reflecting on the strengths and limitations of specific activities and their combined effects. Some educators have the type of relationship with their cooperators that have also brought landowners into this process. While the ultimate success of the LC cannot be evaluated until the viability of the practices is known, it is useful to report outcomes on the basis of progress indicators and lessons learned to date.

Learning Community Viability

Our efforts to examine change on the part of educators began early in the project by developing a formative, engaged approach to evaluating the three-day Agroforestry and Forest Management Learning Communities Workshop that was conducted at the Arnot Forest. At the beginning and end of the workshop, and before and after each session, we asked participants to indicate on index cards, in their own words, how knowledgeable and well prepared they felt prior to and after that session, the most important thing they felt they learned from that session, and what remained to be learned to feel competent in that subject area. We also asked them to define what a viable learning community is/should be. This information has provided a useful benchmark for on-going communication within the Learning Community (LC) through the listserve and site visits. It also motivated and helped enable the facilitators to organize a follow-up workshop that educators could attend on an optional basis to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

Specifically, the “green dots” (nickname for educators who attended the second project workshop, but not the first) commonly felt that they had not gained sufficient experience with understory crops (ginseng, goldenseal, mushrooms) and with marketing. While the emphasis of the initial workshop had been on understory crops, the second workshop devoted more effort to maple and crop tree management. Thus, while the nine “double dots” (educators who attended both workshops) were well versed in both types of activity, the facilitation team appreciated from this feedback that there was a need for “remedial” training for the green dots. Therefore we organized another workshop within the Agroforestry and Carbon Conference several months later that offered in-depth coverage of these topics by project facilitators and other specialists. Those who attended this workshop were satisfied with their levels of competency. The training team was pleased with this outcome, and also with this feedback and adaptation process within the LC. It helped not only to build capacity, but also trust and confidence that the LC could resourcefully advance its overall purposes and the goals of its members as needs arose.
Outcome-related information concerning the viability of the LC approach has been obtained, also, through on-site interviews of selected educators and their cooperating landowners. Interviewees were selected who appeared especially innovative and productive, and who represented a variety of types of trials, agricultural conditions, and educational organizations and affiliations. To make interviewing as cost-effective as possible we purposively sampled in geographic clusters, concentrating the activity in widely distributed pockets of New York, Pennsylvania and Maine.

From the interviews we learned of the needs, aspirations and capacities of the landowners and how they interacted with their corresponding educators. The diversity of situations represented was notable. Some of this information is depicted in the project web site (landowner profiles) and some is summarized in Table 4. The raw data are archived. This information will be helpful in interpreting who participates and who benefits from the LC and from forest farming, and how, as the practices mature. In the meantime it may help stimulate others to try similar practices.

Another means of assessing the viability of the LC was to ask members to comment on the following questions via the listserve, as the project support period drew to a close:

1) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the learning community for fostering forest farming practice?

2) How well do the various activities (workshops, establishing and managing trial practices, monitoring trial practices, listservs, website, site visits) contribute to learning?

3) What are the data and information management requirements to sustain learning?

Responses to these questions enable us to draw out “lessons learned” about the LC from project activity to date. Some key lessons concerning the viability of the LC and associated outcomes of the project are highlighted below:

* About 2/3 of the cooperator/educator teams supplied monitoring data, and about ½ supplied complete and accurate data throughout the project. While the facilitators believed the data requirements were simple and minimal, and because we designed the data forms with LC members who were also educators and landowners, we anticipated better returns. Nonetheless, the data base that has been developed represents a solid foundation for tracking progress, change and impact.

* There are notable differences in how educators manage their relationships with cooperators – some are “hands on” and some “hands off”. Some “dots” are conscientious and deliberate and others are laissez faire. Some work hard to ensure data forms are completed and submitted, others do not.

* “Blue dots” (first generation cohort of LC members) were given more ginseng, goldenseal and mushroom germplasm than needed for two cooperators’ small plots. This may have stimulated them to engage more landowners than they could effectively manage with regard to monitoring and data submission expectations.

* Given the importance that was placed on monitoring, more time should have been devoted to the importance and the mechanics of filling in and submitting the forms during training.

* About half of the educators in the LC used the list-serve on a regular basis. We do not know how many “lurked” (and presumably benefited from the discussion), but chose not to enter, nor do we have a good sense for why so many chose not to be active. For those who used the list serve it was a useful communication and learning device. It has been especially important in problem-solving, particularly regarding pest-related issues that benefit from quick attention. Educators found it effective when facilitators/specialists stimulated discussion about timely issues concerning siting, pest control, monitoring and marketing.

* It is important to keep the LC alive in some form, to continue building the knowledge and expanding the practice of forest farming, and to ensure that when it is time to process and market our understory crops there is a community to refer to for information and ideas.

* One way to sustain the LC cost effectively might be to have regional mini-communities, with one “senior dot” acting as key facilitator and advisor to existing and new dots in their geographic region. Each regional facilitator could also contribute subject matter expertise to several geographic clusters.

* We should consider having a large LC whose members have access to the list-serve and receive some common training, but who will have minimal monitoring and data reporting requirements. A small number of self selected or “hand-picked” dots and cooperating landowners should participate in a more structured data collecting, analysis and reporting program.

* The forest farming training curriculum is excellent and unique. It should be expanded to include more information on product processing and marketing. And more educators and landowners should have access to it. A distance learning package should be created that enables landowners to learn more about forest farming on-line.

Forest Farming Viability

The project has demonstrated that certain types of forest farming, practiced under specified conditions, appear agroecologically feasible and, in time, are likely to be economically viable. High value understory cropping of herbal medicinals appears to offer viable options for small farms to generate income by diversifying their operations, and for forest owners to obtain relatively short term economic benefits from management activities that also benefit forest health and productivity. Specifically, American ginseng and goldenseal seem to be good companion crops that require similar site conditions and management. Project-planted goldenseal will not mature and be ready for harvest for another 2-3 years however, and the ginseng needs another 5-6 years before it can be sold for wild simulated prices.

Both crops suffered considerable drought stress in their establishment phase, and some pest damage. Additional stresses are likely in the future, thus we estimate that about 25-30% of the original plantings of seed, rootlets and rhizobia are likely to reach maturity. Even at this level of plant performance however, our data predict profitable economic returns. The costs of inputs are low, management requirements are minimal and prices for these popular medicinal herbs are likely to remain steady or rise. Northeast growers have readily accessible markets for these products.

Sweet maple trees will not be ready to tap for at least 20 years, possibly more depending on site conditions and management. Sapling survival has been about 79 percent to date. Eventually the new maple plantations should provide suitable site conditions for ginseng and goldenseal, which would considerably enhance the economic potential of a new maple based operation in the comparatively short term. Sweet maple tree plantings are highly valued by existing and prospective maple producers, and demand for seedlings considerably outpaces supply. We anticipate the new plantings will have economic advantages over conventional sugar bushes upon maturity due to the comparatively high sap content. But the economic viability of maple activity in general depends on the status of the industry in respective states, and the processing and marketing ingenuity of individual producers years down the road.

We have learned that the tree shelter systems that are designed to protect the young trees sometimes harbor pests that damage or destroy the trees. In particular, Japanese beetles and wasps have infested the tree tubes in some instances. Voles and mice have found protection under the screen mats that are designed to limit weed competition and conserve moisture, and have damaged saplings. Maple planters have been diligent about the monitoring and care of their trees however, and relatively few deaths have occurred to date. With the aid of digital photos the project list serve was instrumental in the diagnosis of seedling damage and alerting other LC members so they could inspect trees for which they had co-responsibility.

Our experience with woods cultivated mushrooms has been disappointing, and we have learned comparatively little about the viability of this potential forest crop. Until members of the LC gain more experience with the varieties that have been tried and obtain some successes with log and woodchip based stratum we will not advocate the adoption of this practice beyond members of our LC who are willing to take risks to learn. We anticipate that additional voluntary activity will occur in Summer 03 and will use the LC list serve to share findings and discuss results.

Similarly our experience with the forestry practice of crop tree management is limited. This portion of the project did not advance because educators without backgrounds in forestry found the methods too complex and technical to master in the time devoted to it during training. Furthermore, most of the forestry trained educators were compelled to withdraw from project activity, as described above.

Should the learning community find means to sustain itself in some configuration, additional forest farming practices that appear promising to try in our region include shade tolerant fruit shrubs, particularly elderberries, gooseberries and certain cultivars of blueberries. A number of native, forest based decorative florals that landowners can learn to propagate and manage also have economic value. Among these are lady slipper, maidenhair fern, jack-in-the-pulpit and other ginseng companion/indicator plants that could be interplanted with ginseng and goldenseal.

Project Outcomes

Farmer Adoption.

Section 5 (Milestones and Interim Results) reports information on farmer adoption. In sum, the project exceeded its aim to establish 80 trial practices with 40 farmers, instead establishing 176 trials with 113 landowners including 51 small farm operators, 41 private forest owners, 8 local educational organizations, and 13 “other” landowners. These 113 forest farmers, as well as the 45 educators who have supported them, have played key roles in facilitating the adoption by other landowners of forest farming practices.

Farmer as well as educator enthusiasm for the practices influenced our decision to augment project resources and enable more landowners than planned to participate in the trials. Such enthusiasm has been apparent throughout as indicated by a high level of interest and demand for knowledge and information about forest farming. We attribute this to the low costs of entry and on-going management together with potentially high returns over time, as well as the novel and even recreational characteristics of some of the practices. While we do not know for sure how many of the 2,000-4,000 landowners who have been exposed to project activities and information have adopted forest farming practices, we conservatively estimate that some 1,000 have tried at least one of them. The LC network will continue to stimulate more farmers to adopt these practices.

Potential Contributions

Economic analysis

(Note–tables referred below are available from the Northeast SARE regional office)

It is not possible yet to describe the yields and net returns for the production systems being tried, and thus to summarize or analyze returns or risks of adopting. We are monitoring the costs of inputs in the establishment and on-going management phases of crop production. Based on this preliminary information it is possible to generate some rough estimates of returns based on current market prices of ginseng and goldenseal. While we have developed cost of establishment information for mushrooms as well, but until production occurs it has not seemed meaningful to anticipate yields or revenues. Similarly for sugar maple we have measured establishment and early management costs. Due to the long time period before sap production commences and the likelihood that prices will change, in addition to the numerous variables that affect net revenues including production volume, product shrinkage, unit packaging distribution, processing and other costs it has not seemed meaningful to predict revenues. A rough estimate of yield can be made based on presumed levels of productivity.

Tables 5.1 and 5.2 summarize the average costs of inputs for LC farmers for the two herbal medicinal crops over the first two years, per 100 ft² of area. Because crop density within plots is not uniform our data do not discern the cost per number of live plants. Over time, we can combine cost of input information with our survival data to more precisely predict net returns. In the meantime, for American ginseng we assume that a 100 ft.² plot will yield 100 mature roots, with plantings on 1 foot centers, and successful transplanting of rootlets to fill spaces where seedlings have died. One hundred 8-10 year old wild-simulated roots will weigh about 1/2 lb. dried on average (as much as 1 lb. and as little as 1/3 lb). At $300/lb, the average price for wild simulated root last year (though the average has been as high as $450/lb in recent years), returns to this unit of area would be $150.00.

We can compare this return with information in Table 5.1 on the average establishment and management costs of 32 LC farmers, extrapolating year 2 management costs for 7 more years, to estimate that net returns would be $92.00 ($350 minus $60). Three caveats are in order. First, the $92.00 figure does not include the cost of harvesting, thus the final return may be some $20 or so less, depending on the value of labor. Second, it is not realistic to extrapolate 100 ft² to an acre of forest. While there are about 40,000 ft² per acre, perhaps 10,000 – 15,000 ginseng plants could be grown in a wild simulated manner due to stones, trees, and other stressors. Therefore gross returns per acre at today’s price might be $30,000 – $45,000 after 8 years. Third, the only significant on-going management cost is labor, and labor is the principal cost of establishment. Thus, the question of how one values one’s labor is what determines the real costs of production. We have valued labor at $10/hr.

Regarding goldenseal, the average costs of production per 100 ft² for 18 farmers in year one and two were about $48.00, while on-going management costs alone were $13.00, virtually all of this in labor. If we project a 5 year cycle to harvest, the total cost of producing the crop will be about $87.00, plus the cost of harvesting. To estimate returns we can assume that goldenseal yields are similar to ginseng, or about 1/2 lb dry weight per 100 ft². The difference between ginseng and goldenseal however, is that the value of goldenseal has declined appreciably since the project began as the market has become flooded. Presently it is worth only about $12 per lb., making production unprofitable.

With respect to woods grown mushrooms, Table 5.3 indicates that input costs for the first two years, averaged over 10 LC farmers, were $36.5, the large majority of it in labor supplied by the farmers. We do not have an estimate for harvesting costs. While we cannot reasonably project yields from our trials, based on literature we can estimate that a well performing inoculated log will produce an average of .25/lb of mushrooms/day. Four logs therefore can produce 1 lb/day over a 90 day period, or 90 lbs/day. At an average sale price of $4.00/lb revenues could be in the neighborhood of $360 or 10 times initial establishment costs.

Table 6 indicates that the average establishment and management costs for 40 LC farmers during the first year per 20 maple trees were $180. About half the cost is in farmer-supplied labor. The cost of seedlings is artificially low, as they were subsidized by the Uhlien Maple Research Facility. The cost of protective equipment however approaches the cost of labor for site preparation and planting. We do not yet have good evidence of the on-going management costs beyond year 1. We can anticipate, however that they would not reach more than $30 per 20 trees on average. To estimate maple syrup yields and revenues from 20 trees, 20 years from now, we assume 1 tap per tree (2 to 3 taps when the trees are mature in 40 years) will yield 1/3 gallon of syrup after the sap is boiled. Thus 6.6 gallons sold at the current price of $32/gallon will generate $211.00.

Future Recommendations

The Learning Community would like more information about shade tolerant berry and other fruit producing shrubs and small trees, other medicinal herbs, and native decorative plants with market potential. They would also like to participate in generating this information through on-farm trials. Woods mushroom production also requires additional study. Market development and marketing strategies for specialty forest products also are in need of further study.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.