Increasing Farm Production by Converting Fenceline Brush to Agroforestry

Final Report for FNC01-339

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $6,150.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $7,511.30
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The three participating farms in this project principally produce soybeans, corn, wheat, forages, and beef cattle. Each operation consists of a family farm that has multiple generations involved in the day to day farming practices. The Isgrig and Flatt farm’s has two generations actively involved in the row crop operation, followed by the Hoffman farm that has three generations involved in the row crop operation. This was the first time any of these producers have been involved with a sustainable agriculture project; however, each farm implements no till, conservation tillage and crop rotation practices that benefit our environment. Each farm also practices agriculture methods to assist in accumulating farm data and making farm decisions.

The main objective of this project was to demonstrate that we (producers) can add value to our farms by selecting and managing non-valuable brushy fencerows and transfiguring such fence lines into marketable trees and veneer quality logs while preserving habitat for bobwhite quail and other wildlife species.

Process: on two of the three farms, 0.25 to 1 mile of overgrown fence line with a mixed stand of walnut and other brush species was selected for pruning. While the third farm did not have a suitable fence line setting, it had a twenty acre woodlot along a creek, which consisted of a mixture of walnut along with other hardwood tree species.

Site 1: (Flatt Farm) had over 75 volunteer walnut trees ranging from 2 to 15 feet tall plus a couple of larger walnut (seed trees) mixed with osage-orange, elm, hackberry, cherry, mulberry and honey locust. All brush other than walnut were cut at ground level, the stumps were treated with Crossbow herbicide, firewood removed, and the brush was pushed into two large piles for wildlife cover at the ends of a quarter mile of old fence line. Some crooked or deformed walnut’s were coppiced (cut off at 1” above ground level) and allowed to re-sprout. Terminal growth has been and will continue to be managed to form a singe, straight stem. Side branches will gradually be pruned to produce approximately 17-foot of clear, straight trunk for veneer quality logs. This process will take about 8-12 years after which the walnut will be the dominant trees in this fence line. As little as approximately 30 minutes of pruning time over the life of each tree is needed to convert a relatively worthless tree into potentially a veneer quality tree with a value of $200 to $1,000. The pruned trunks will allow safe passage of farm equipment and permit an under story of early successional vegetation that is very attractive to quail (superior to a dense fencerow of osage orange). After the brush was removed, Korean lespedeza and switch grass were seeded in the open areas to develop and facilitate quail habitat.

Site 2: (Hoffman Farm) had over 150 volunteer walnut trees along approximately 1.2 mile of fence line. The numerous young volunteers are a result of seed trees that were planted about fifty years ago. Thinning and managing terminal growth has been the main focus of 2002 and 2003. Pruning of the side limbs to produce 15-20 feet of clear trunk will continue to be the winter time objective for a few years. New walnut trees are noticed growing I the fence lines since management was initiated on the overgrown fence line in response to the clearing and removal of un-wanted brush. Proper pruning of these walnut and cherry trees will easily increases their value by 10-20 fold. Culled trees have been cut for firewood and are used on the farm. Since this project began there has been other non-productive areas of the Hoffman Farm that has been targeted for walnut production.

Site 3: (Isgrig Farm) has approximately 20 acres of woodlot along a creek. The mixed timber site includes walnut, cherry, red oak species, honey locust, osage orange, hickory, elm, hackberry and mulberry. This bottom land site is ideal for the first three species which were saved. Timber stand improvement measures were followed by cutting all grapevines that were attached to all desirable trunks of the first three species. Cut surfaces were treated with Crossbow. The most competitive adjacent stems of undesirable trees were girdled and treated. Over 60 walnut with 6-20” breast height diameter were released along with a dozen cherry and numerous red oak. Along the periphery, approximately 25 volunteer walnuts are encroaching a non-cropped area that will be managed for production of clear, straight trunks.

People: the consultant for this project has been Harlan Palm who has been managing a personal walnut plantation with 1,000 trees for over 25 years. All producers involved in this project have toured his woodlot to see what their volunteer trees can potentially develop into. The Natural Resource Conservation Service and the School of Forestry at the University of Missouri were supportive in the initial project proposal and in touring the progress of the project.

Results: the appearance of all three sites is much more attractive as is apparent from the before and after photographs. Well over 300 walnut trees have been released and are under managed care such that they will potentially garner $100,000 to $250,000 value instead of being part of an unsightly fence line that begrudgingly attracts bulldozers.

Discussion: the landowners have developed pride in their respective volunteer walnut trees. In two sites, the linear row of volunteer trees with crops on both sides becomes a unique configuration of Agroforestry. As these landowners watch the growth and development of valued trees at the edge of their fields, they will become more interested in practicing timber stand improvement of small brushy woodlots along creeks or other small areas not being farmed or managed in any way. Management of valuable trees along a creek bank is a scenario that provides monetary value. While growing in value and pride to the landowner, it is more likely to become a permanent riparian buffer that stabilizes the creek bank.

Based on the consultant’s personal experience, landowners should consider managing existing walnut or other trees for increased value rather than feeling the desire to sacrifice an open field and planting seedling trees. Site preparation, planting and nurturing young seedlings is time consuming and often very expensive. Established volunteer trees save effort and gives a jump start in forming a valuable stand of timber.

Two tours have been held. One was held for the SARE Project Coordinator. Another was recently held for the three producers, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and a free lance writer for several periodical magazines. A couple articles are anticipated. Additional tours are likely as the walnut trees continue to grow and will provide additional income for the farm.


Participation Summary
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.