Our farm is family owned and consists of 55 acres, mostly steep former pasture reverting to timber. We raise dairy goats, sheep and broiler chickens on pasture (rotationally). We have been growing woodland medicinal plants since 1987, and have been operating a small tree nursery business since 1993. We have a large vegetable garden and home orchard with a very wide variety of fruit and nut trees and bushes. We are in the process of establishing 8-10 acres in agroforestry planting for cash crops. The rest of the farm is managed for wildlife and timber production. All crops are grown with 100% soil cover (mulch or vegetation) to prevent erosion. Fertilizer comes mainly from manure, compost, and wood ashes.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of this project is to demonstrate a profitable, low input, and sustainable agricultural system based on tree crops, and to evaluate the most promising varieties and strains for their variability for commercial production.
This project deals with tree plantings totaling about 6 acres located on four flat topped ridges. The slopes are mostly B and C. The soil type is Fayette Silt Loam. Site preparation consisted mainly of clearing a very dense brush of gray dogwood and elm. Oak, walnut, and hickory saplings were left standing. Rows for tree planting were spaced 20 feet apart. The plantings were divided into “blocks” of about 1/10 acres each, consisting of 100 foot lengths of a pair of rows. Usually one species was planted to a block. Adjacent blocks were planted to different species to increase biodiversity. Blocks of hazels had one additional row halfway between the 20 ft rows (3-100 ft rows 1- ft apart), and were planted 6 feet apart within rows. Most other trees were planted at 5 or 10 ft spacing within rows. Due to their high cost, grafted trees were planted at 20 foot spacing within the row.
Walnut and hickory saplings which already existed in the planting were used as rootstocks for grafted varieties whenever possible. The rootstocks were top worked using inlay bark grafts or chip budding.
Trees were established using six different methods: direst seeding, planting bare root seedlings, planting container grown seedlings, planting bare root grafted trees, planting container grown grafted trees, and top working (grafting) existing saplings.
Seeds were planted at 5 foot intervals within rows. Chestnut, walnut, and pecan seeds were protected after planting with a 9” square of poultry netting placed over the seed and staked down at the corners. Pawpaw and persimmon seed were planted without protection.
Holes for all trees were dug by hand using a tiling spade, except for the hazels which were planted with a dibble bar constructed just for that purpose.
Ideally, blocks were 1/10 acres in size and rectangular (40’ x 100’). Circumstances often prevented the ideal from being realized. Many blocks have walnut, oak and hickory saplings (and usually outside the rows) in addition to the planted species. Measurements errors, poor planning or topography prevented some blocks form conforming to the ideal size and shape.
Below is a list of species, strains, and varieties being evaluated in this study. More may be added later.
Chestnut – Grafted Varieties
Eaton, Layeroka, Willamette, Orrin, Revival, Skookum, Mossbarger, Skioka, and Sleeping Giant
Chestnut – Seedling Stains
Wapello, Bagersett, Empire, Orrin, Skioka, BB, Mossbarger, and Great Lakes Chestnut Alliance
Pecan – Grafted Varieties
Peruque, Lucus, Colby, James, Posey, Devore, and Starking Hardy Giant
Shagbark Hickory – Grafted Varieties
Yoder #1, Cairo, CES-8, Fox, Walters, Davis, and Wescke
Shellbark Hickory – Grafted Varieties
Selbher, Henry, and Fayette
Hican – grafted Varieties
James, Henke, Burton, Abbott Hican, and Abbot “Pecan”
Black Walnut – Grafted Varieties
Hay, Hare, Rowher, Cranz, Sparrow, S-127, S-147, Eldora, Davidson, Sauber #1, Elmer Myer, Emma K, Surprize, and Crider
Heartnut – Grafted Varieties
CW3, Etter, Fodermaier, Imshu, Pyke, Mtichell (hybrid), Rhodes, and Schubert
Persimmon – Grafted Varieties
Slate, Meador, SAS Pieper, Geneva Long, Keaner, Evellyn, Zsukis, Yates (“Juhl”), and John Rick
Pawpaw – Grafted Varieties
Sunflower, Taytwo, Mitchell, Overlease, and Prolific
Hazel – Badgersett Strain
Nut Pines – Seedlings
Swiss Stone Pine, Siberian Stone Pine, Korean Pine, and Colorado Pinyon Pine
Ginkgo – Seedlings
– Tom Wahl, project leader
– Kathy Dice, wife, publicist, data tabulator, report editor, typist
– Connie Ramirez, District Conservationist – Natural Resource Conservation Service, Soil consultant
– Stan Tate, District forester, tree management consultant
– Todd Kim, Practical Farmers of Iowa Publicist, publicity
– Bob Petrzelka, forester, tree planting and care consultant
– Kevin Vandee, Director, Iowa Sate University Southeast Research Farm, research, data collection and analysis consultant.
– Rick Exner, Practical Farmers of Iowa Coordinator, research plot designs consultant
The following people assisted with labor for the site preparation, tree planting, application of mulch and tree shelters, etc.
Tom Barker, Kathy Dice, Brett Hoben, Bryce Hoben, Kate Hoben, Adam Rudisill, Eric Rudisill, Jason Schlutz, Jacob Skidmore, Brett Timmerman, Brent Tompkins, and Kurt Walker.
The main results sought by this project are related to fruit and nut production form tree crops. Because most of the trees were planted in 1997, the first of these results will not be forthcoming for at least two years. Some results from the process of planting and establishing the trees are available now and may be of interest to come.
Mortality: Loss of trees to mortality was surprisingly low, in spite of several problems which developed during the project:
1) A prolonged dry spell beginning around June 1 and lasted until August 8. During this period only ½ inch of rain fell, and virtually all of that evaporated. In spite of supplemental watering, many trees suffered moisture stress and damage.
2) A plague of periodical cicadas stuck in late June and lasted through July. Their egg laying activities severely damaged or destroyed many small twigs.
3) A plague of grasshoppers struck in August and lasted until the first hard freeze. The grasshoppers completely defoliated many small trees, sometimes repeatedly. Some hazels were also girdled by grasshoppers. Established trees can endure complete defoliation once in a season without serious damage. A subsequent defoliation may result in damage or death. A newly planted tree can not endure a single defoliation without damage.
4) Small mammals were so numerous in the area about half of all tree planting holes were intersected by one or more burrows. A burrow alongside or though a tree’s root system creates air pockets which can allow roots to dry out.
5) Squirrels were numerous throughout the farm, but poultry netting protected most of the vulnerable seed. The exception was in one area where an animal, (probably a single, determined squirrel) dug under the edges of the poultry netting squares. All black walnut and some chestnut seed was lost in that area.
6) Raccoons went down some tree rows and dug up every last newly planted seedling. The root systems were laid out beside the hole to dry.
About 5% of hazels were lost, due mainly to burrowing mammals. A few dozen seeds of walnut and chestnut were lost to squirrels. Raccoons dug up about 20 pawpaws and 10 pecans. Moisture stress killed two grafted chestnuts, and damaged 3 others. Moisture stress also killed about 20 pines.
Direct seeding of persimmon was a failure due to very low germination (about 10%). I believe this was due to improper seed storage. I have had near 100% germination in the past.
Grafting had to be delayed by 6 weeks due to unusually cool spring weather. As a result, only 77 out of about 170 grafts were successful. My grafting success has usually been between 50%-75%.
Overall, the tree planting has been very successful, with over 95% survival so far. (90% survival is usually considered very good).
This project is one I have been planning for years. This grant has allowed the implementation in one year, instead of the 5-10 years it would have taken me alone.
Results will be coming in years sooner and what a better side by side comparison of varieties.
If someone were to ask my advice in attempting a similar project, I would recommend trying it on a smaller scale (1-2 acres). The time and labor for this project has been nearly overwhelming for someone with other responsibilities.
The expected benefits of the successful implementation of this project include:
– Reduction in soil erosion by about two thousand fold, form 11 tons/acre/year for conventional corn/soybean agriculture to about 0.006 tons/acre/year, by keeping soil covered at all times with mulch and/or vegetation.
– Reduction in pesticide and chemical fertilizer usage. Fertilization will come form manure, compost and wood ashes. Weeds will be controlled with mowing, mulch, and ground cover. Biodiversity will keep pest population below economic thresholds.
– No dependence on expensive, high tech, equipment and fossil fuels. The main equipment needed will be shovels, rakes, knife, and pruning saw. One small tractor and mower will be used to mow 2-3 times per year during establishment. Mowing will eventually be reduced to once per year, and may be replaced with controlled grazing.
– Economic benefits: tree crops are high value products sold by the pound, not by the bushel. Tree crops are capable of producing quantities comparable to or greater than grain crops. Example: chestnuts produce 1-9 thousand pounds per acre and wholesale for 1-3 dollars per pound. If medicinal plants such as ginseng, goldenseal, and Echinacea are incorporated into the system, profitability could easily exceed $30.000 per acres per year.
– High Biodiversity: up to 15 different crops will be grown on each acre. A diverse mixture of wild plants will be encouraged as a ground cover. A wide variety of wildlife will find the agroforest excellent habitat year round.
– More efficient use of solar energy. Trees leaf out and begin converting solar energy 4-6 weeks earlier in spring and continue for another 4-6 weeks in the fall compared to grain crops
– Reduced greenhouse gasses. Trees take carbon dioxide out of the air and put it into long term storage.
– Rural community development. Because of their high per acre profitability, tree crops could allow farm families to earn a good living on less land. Because tree crops are not practical on a large scale, they would encourage more and smaller farms (and more farmers) on the same piece of land which now only supports one farm.
On March 15, 17 and 18 I spoke at agroforestry workshops organized by the US Forest Service, ISU Forestry Extension and various RC&D’s. The workshops were held in Lamoni, Iowa City and Fairfield, Iowa. During my presentation I spoke briefly about the project and about recommended nut and fruit strains and cultivars for this area. I was also able to distribute handouts with this information and sources for more information.
Press releases were sent out in April to 12 regional newspapers and to 5 radio stations briefly describing the project and the grants which helped fund it. In July we mailed 37 copies of the catalog for our small nursery business. In the catalog was a summary of the project and an invitation to our upcoming field day. Press releases were sent out again in August to 25 media outlets inviting the public to the field day and a second, similar press release was sent out by Practical Farmers of Iowa two weeks later.
The field day was held 2:00 pm on September 14, 1997 at our farm. At least 49 people attended, from three states and from as far away as 200 miles. We had a great deal of handouts for attendees, including information on strains/cultivars being evaluated, sources of more information, information on the planting, care, and handling of chestnuts, information on the SARE program and Practical Farmers of Iowa.
The media coverage of the field day was good. And comments from participants were extremely positive. Sue Jarnagin of Practical Farmers of Iowa commented that it was the only field day were she had seen people taking notes.
I am developing a colorful poster about the project for display at the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference in January 1998.
In the future, when there are more results to report, articles will be submitted to the Northern Nut Growers Association, Iowa Nut Growers Association, and Practical Farmers of Iowa for publication. I will also be writing about the project in small farming magazines such as Countryside and Small Livestock Journal which have a good reader base of small farmers. Updates will be sent to NCRSARE annually, as long as they are interested.
Outreach will also continue with annual field days at our farm and with result summaries printed in our nursery catalog. The catalog is sent to regional people who have shown a past interest in tree crops. We plan to greatly expand its mailing list in the future.