Development of a Carbon Farming Plan through Assessment of Tree/Shrub Agroforestry Data for Increased Production, Resource Valuation, Carbon Sequestration and Related Ecosystem Benefits

Final report for FNC19-1167

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $8,998.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2021
Grant Recipient: Prairie Birthday Farm LLC
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Linda Hezel
Prairie Birthday Farm LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Begun in 1993 with the conviction that family health and soil health are inextricably linked, the Prairie Birthday Farm (PBF) 14 acre farmscape has been progressively designed to mimic nature in food production and to reconstruct native ecosystems necessary for balance and synergy among plants, animals, and humans. Native plants in food production offer adaptability to local soil and climate, maintenance of healthy and diverse ecosystems, and the conservation and propagation of local flora.
Production practices demonstrate some of the principles of agroforestry, sustainable, permaculture, and biomimicry farming. Perennial polycultures (pasture, prairie, trees/shrubs) are never tilled. No synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides are used.

Summary:

Problem:  According to recent climate reports emphasizing rising greenhouse gases, Midwest farmers face more weather extremes (heat, drought, torrential rains, humidity) with more crop diseases and pests coupled with the ongoing extinction of species.

  1. Ecologically sound land stewardship via carbon farming is best accomplished by understanding and acting upon the complex and interdependent value of ecosystem benefits of agroforestry land management.  Carbon farming is a collection of crops and agricultural practices that sequester and store carbon in the soil and perennial vegetation like trees/shrubs.  With carbon farming, agriculture is less part of the climate problem and more a critical part of the solution.
  2. Economically Viable   Quantifying carbon farming benefits is necessary to monetize agroforestry.   Agroforestry increases product value by providing multiple revenue streams from diversified sources, thereby expanding the definition of yield beyond “pounds per acre” to include soil health, carbon sequestration and storage, as well as a myriad of ecosystem services (natural capital). Farming is extraction, but also production.  It prepares farmers to participate in emerging carbon markets. 
  3. Socially Responsible   Agriculture and ecosystems are necessary for survival. Agroforestry supports essential life resources (clean air, water, soil) for food production.  Our continued existence relies on the preservation and regeneration of healthy biological and ecological systems.  Conservation and valuing of ecosystems services can no longer be left to voluntary, undervalued, non-reimbursed chance.
Project Objectives:
  1. Measure and increase carbon farming by focusing on the current and potential role of trees/shrubs on the farm.
  2. Identify, inventory, and map the farm’s existing agroforestry tree/shrub data.
  3. Analyze and monetize the carbon farming and agroforestry related ecosystem services.
  4. Design, develop and produce a carbon farming plan that values current agroforestry practices and increases carbon sequestration and storage for regeneration, resilience, diversity, and sustainability.
  5. Share findings and obtain feedback through marketing, presentations, farm tours, exhibits, posters, apprentice and volunteer mentoring, local newspaper stories, social media, and YouTube.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Molly Gosnell (Researcher)
  • Dr. Robert Kremer (Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:

Prairie_Bday_InventoryPlan

Since we want to know the existing trees’ ecosystem services, we will do a tree/shrub inventory and data analysis using the USDA Forest Service’s free i-Tree Eco software (www.itreetools.org). A tree inventory requires an arborist to determine species and tree health. This project will use Nick Goergen who is an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Board Certified Master Arborist.   The data will also be mapped, processed, and analyzed in i-Tree by Molly Gosnell who is a certified Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP).  Molly is also a tree grower on her family’s pecan orchard. Additionally she is working towards a graduate certificate in agroforestry through the University of Missouri.

The inventory will include all trees/shrubs on the farm with a diameter at breast height (DBH) equal to or greater than 4 inches. However if the trees have been planted by Linda Hezel, we will include them in the inventory regardless of their DBH.  Data collection will consist of trees’ species, health, DBH, proximity to buildings, and location. It will be inventoried with a data collection phone app with an attached GPS receiver. In addition, the trees will be stratified into various categories like woodland, windbreak, orchard, etc. After the data is collected, we will use i-Tree Eco software to determine the following ecosystem services and structural data:

  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Carbon Storage
  • Pollution Removal
  • Avoided Runoff
  • Oxygen Production
  • Building energy savings
  • Avoided carbon emissions
  • Structural values
  • Species diversity
  • Invasive species

The outputs from the inventory and i-Tree analysis will be displayed on a free online Google My Maps interactive map. With the map, tree/shrub data, historical soil testing data, and information on agroforestry practices, Linda Hezel can determine where existing agroforestry practices can be better managed and where additional agroforestry practices will be established. This will be the basis for her carbon farming plan.

Research results and discussion:
Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Journal articles
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Tours
8 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days
5 Other educational activities: Distribution and discussion of poster copies to customers.

Participation Summary:

400 Farmers
800 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Field day (2019, in person) in cooperation with K-State.  Twenty four participants included the Farmer, and 2 project cooperators.  Attendees included farmers and William Jewell College biology department faculty.  Videographer instructor volunteer taped the 3 hour presentation for future marketing/branding opportunities.  Editing of the video will be done in the future as time and funds become available.

Media coverage included Instagram, Facebook, twitter and discussions during attendance (zoom) at events (The 12th Annual Agroforestry Symposium: Community Health & Resilient Food Systems).  

Presentations (2019, in-person, 20 attendees) to Kansas City Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society and Plan It Native conference of Deep Roots KC (zoom).  Potential attendees, 568, were from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 different countries (United States, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland).  

Presented (2019, in-person) poster at Great Plains Growers Conference, St. Joseph, MO., at (2019, in-person) Missouri University Center for Agroforestry Symposium, Columbia, MO.,  at the annual (2019, in-person) meeting of Cultivate KC., Kansas City, MO., and the Savanna Institute Perennial Gathering (zoom; 400 potential attendees from 18 countries).

Featured in journal article:  https://www.hpj.com/crops/permaculture-improves-soil-health-adds-value-to-small-scale-farm/article_79e64bfe-7241-11eb-9058-d3d1b0c110a1.html  "High Plains Journal is a regional weekly agricultural news publications published in Dodge City, Kansas with a core circulation reaching twelve states in the Great Plains and Midwest region. As of 2018, it had 42,000 subscribers." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Plains_Journal

Project information and poster is on the website www.prairiebirthdayfarm.com and at this tab https://www.prairiebirthdayfarm.com/current-projects .

Due to wide reach of zoom access actual numbers reached are unknown.

Learning Outcomes

10 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:
  1. Learned how to measure the carbon farmed by focusing on the current and potential role of trees/shrubs on the farm.
  2. Identified, inventoried, and mapped the farm’s existing agroforestry trees/shrubs.  PBF_SimpleMap4PowerPoint
  3. Using i-Tree, analyzed and monetized the carbon farming and agroforestry-related ecosystem services that are integrated into farm production. PBF_i-Tree_Report

For more about  iTree and downloading the summary of methods please see this link to USDA Forest Service Website

  1. Designed, developed, and produced a carbon farming plan that values current agroforestry practices and increases carbon sequestration and storage for regeneration, resilience, diversity, and sustainability as an integral part of the farm legacy. (Download PDF here: CarbonFarmingPlan_LindaHezel_FNC19-1167)
  2. Shared findings and obtained feedback through 3 presentations, 1 farm tour, 3 poster presentations, 1 article, and a website report of the project.

The project quantified the value of trees/shrubs for carbon sequestration.  It has reinforced the continued design and development of the farmscape using trees/shrubs.  Carbon markets do not yet accommodate small scale producers, but as the climate crisis advances opportunities may arise.  Some advantages of implementation included collaboration with other discipline specialists (GI Specialist, Arborist, Videographer) and using tools to quantify yield from diverse sources on the farm.  No disadvantages have been identified.  I would advise other farmers and ranchers to not delay designing and implementing a carbon farming plan using agroforestry into their practices.  Carbon Farming - Agroforestry and Soil Data 

Designed and administered a brief field day evaluation inspired by: Questionnaires for Evaluating On-Farm Field Days (bingj.com).  

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
6 New working collaborations
Success stories:

Some of the responses from the field day event revealed the following:

In response to the question:  How likely are you to attend future events focused on these topics? (Scale of 1-10) the average response was 9.5.

In response to the question:  What was something you learned about today you will try applying in your own growing practices?

  • "I'm desperately trying to figure out how to make market gardening sustainable/regenerative in every sense of the term, and Linda gave me food for thought about all that."

Comments: 

  • "I loved it. The farm visit and speakers were very inspiring." 
  • "Thank you for a wonderful learning experience. The lunch meal was great. Thank you for ordering good weather." 
Recommendations:

Conducting and acting upon field day evaluations to develop that method of outreach for successful sharing of project results will likely improve outreach outcomes.  Recommend SARE offer a field day evaluation template.

Carbon markets are in early stages of development and currently target large acreages.  Small scale producers will benefit from evaluating carbon sequestration, storage and other ecosystem services to direct practices that increase farm productivity and resilience.  As the climate crisis accelerates, being positioned to participate in solutions markets will be of value.  Quantified ecosystem services coincide with ranking criteria for Natural Resource Conservation Service Programs and may support funding endeavors.

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.