Brambles and Sassafras Agroforestry

Final Report for FNC99-281

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $1,182.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
FS Funds: $642.00
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
The tract is 37 acres in size located 4 miles outside of Macon, Missouri. The overall goal is to develop some profitable alternative products that will help pay for the property, provide additional income and promote wildlife habitat. The tract is currently considered a Tree Farm through the Tree Farm organization. Fourteen acres of woods are present. Seven of these are managed for high quality white oak production and the other 7 mainly for wildlife due to poor species composition. Some small plots of ginseng were planted, but these will not mature for another 7 years if successful.

An additional 8 acres was initially in fescue. It is under a wildlife management plan to promote upland quail habitat. The area has been burned for the past 3 years with the goal to promote native grasses. A small portion of this field is targeted for the bramble trial planting.

Another area of interest is an existing stand of native warm season grasses with encroaching cedars. This is about 5 acres in size. The plan is to remove the cedars and begin burning it as well. The management goal is either for seed production of high quality forage.

Christmas trees were also planted on about 1 acre. The remaining acres are brushy draws, power line right of way, home site and pond.

Berry production has been proven very profitable in other parts of the country. This is not the case for much of Missouri however, especially north Missouri. Much of the research done here is conducted at the State Fruit Experiment Station in Mountain Grove, Missouri located in the southern third of the state. This area has a slightly warmer climate than the northern 1/3 where I am located. Many varieties tested are recommended for trial plantings only in north Missouri due to unknown factors such as cold hardiness and soil characteristics. This lack of reliable research makes large scale plantings difficult to justify. This project will provide landowners with needed information as to the viability of berry production for the region. It will demonstrate methods of growing brambles and encourage them as an alternative income source to diversify large farming operation and offer income potential to small farms. Alternative income sources are desperately needed with the recent decline in prices of conventional agricultural crops such as corn and soybeans or cattle and hay land.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The objective of the project is to develop an agroforestry system that looks at 3 varieties of blackberries and three of raspberries as an alternative product for annual income and sassafras as the forestry component. Total area planted would be approximately ½ acre.

Sassafras has a viable market for the leaves and bark and would be used to supplement berry income in poor berry producing years. In addition, shade from the trees may assist in reducing sun scald damage to the fruit. Trees will also make a more attractive environment for individuals looking to pick berries at a you-pick operation.

Small farms have little opportunities to generate income through conventional agriculture. It is important to give landowners viable economic options to justify purchasing small acreage the value of which has risen drastically in recent years. Large farms also need viable options to diversify their income due to the declining prices of many traditional farm products. Brambles could be that option if proven successful. Berry production has been proven to generate $1000-$3000 per acre in other regions once established. The product could be easily marketed as well. People who pick wild berries in the region easily sell them at 9 or 10 dollars per gallon thus demonstrating their market potential. An orchard setting would make a you-pick operation very appealing to consumers lacking the time or ability to locate wild patches.

Timetable:
– Fall of 1999 to spring of 2000, layout planting site and conduct site preparation.
– January 1, 2000 ordered plant materials
– Spring of 2000 applied fertilizer according to soil test
– Spring of 2000 planted brambles and mulched planting
– Installed irrigation system due to dry spring
– Irrigated as needed during establishment year
– Mowed as needed
– Trellised raspberry plants
– Pruned brambles June and July
– Pruned again in fall

Summer of 2001, first production year:
– 3 gallons of Black Raspberries sold
– 5 quarts Illini Hardy Blackberries picked not sold
– Fertilized planting
– Additional mulch applied
– Mowed as needed
– Irrigated as needed
– Pruned as needed
– Purchased weed eater to keep planting clean
– Cleaned out old brambles in fall
– Re-plant trees that died

Summer of 2002
– 18 quarts Illini Hardy Blackberries picked and sold
– Applied Sinbar pre-emergent herbicide
– Fertilized as needed
– Irrigated as needed
– Mowed as needed
– Pruned as needed

Results:
Of the three varieties of blackberries and three of raspberries, only one variety produced consistently. This was the Illini Hardy Blackberry. Over the 2 production years, 23 quarts were picked and sold with a value of $69.00. This still falls short of the cost of the plants at $100.00 for the 50 that were purchased.

The other varieties had various problems:
– The Navaho Thornless Blackberry froze back and was frequently browsed by deer. The Shawnee Thorny Blackberry also froze back and had insignificant production.
– Bristol Black Raspberry showed promise the second growing season but got verticlium wilt and did not produce the third season
– The Latham Red Raspberry never developed well or had any significant production
– The Jewel Black Raspberry never produced and died out the second growing season.

Significant mortality was seen only in the Jewel Black Raspberry. The other species all persisted, even with the deer browse and freezing back.

The greatest benefits were the results of the variety testing. Illini Hardy has the greatest potential for my location. Future testing will include thorny varieties due to deer damage of the thornless ones.

My future goals for growing blackberries include testing of additional varieties of thorny blackberries. I plan to mix some thorny ones in the row with the thornless ones to see if this will cut down on deer browse. I also intend to experiment with propagating plants to cut down on establishment costs and expand the planting in that manner.

New varieties will include Chickasaw and Choctaw.

The size of the planting would need to be close to a half acre in size. On my spacing, this is about 1049 initial plants. The main goal is to have sufficient quantity from one picking to justify a trip to the market. For me, that’s about 10 gallons of $130.00 worth. This volume is also critical for a you-pick operation to ensure quality and easy picking for visitors.

Berries were sold at the local farmers market. It is actually the Wal-Mart parking lot where many local growers gather. With an increased volume, I would make the trip to Moberly which has an established Farmers Market. Berries sold for $3.00 a quart. Near a larger urban area, I have been told $4.00 is common. Many buyers bought 4 quarts at a time.

An irrigation system was installed. It consisted of ½ in black roll pipe running down the six 200 foot rows. Every four feet, a pressure compensating emitter was installed. This provided a consistent 1 gallon per hour of water. The water source was the rural water system in Macon County. Six hundred gallons of water would be put on at a time with about 4 waterings throughout the growing season.

Pesticide application was minimal. Only a 3 foot band was treated centered on the bramble rows. Thus, only 30 percent of the land area actually gets any chemical treatment. The same applies for fertilizer.

The sassafras planting did not fair well. I found out later, that they do not transplant well. Numerous trees were replaced by the company with alternative species. A third of the original stock is still present. The leaves have the primary market potential. They sell for $1.00 per pound. Companies that buy botanical products such as ginseng or goldenseal also buy many other roots and herbs such as sassafras.

Weed control is also a constant challenge. Organic is not the route since mulch carried with it other weed seeds and did not suppress the ragweed and foxtail. A combination of chemical weed control and mulch will be in order.

OUTREACH
My primary avenue for sharing information was through the Small Farm Trade Show in Columbia, MO. Presentations were made in the fall of 2000 and the fall of 2002. In each program, between 30 and 40 people were present. Slides of the different varieties, weed control problems, problems associated with the varieties and market information was shared with the attendees.

Planting success was also shared with the Macon County Extension office with a presentation to the county committee in the fall of 2002. Information was also shared with the staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Mark Twain Water Quality Initiative in Macon County on an informal basis.

Due to poor species performance, a field day was not held.

Research

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.