Enhancing the Ecological and Socioeconomic Benefits of Silvopasture Systems in Washington State through Participatory Research and Education

Progress report for GW20-208

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $24,998.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Washington State Univeristy
Region: Western
State: Washington
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Marcia Ostrom
School of Environment, Washington State University
Major Professor:
Mark Batcheler
Washington State Univeristy
Lynne Carpenter-Boggs
Washington State University
Dr. Mark Swanson
Washington State Univeristy
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Project Information

Summary:

The agroforestry practice of silvopasture seeks to integrate profitable timber and livestock production while enhancing natural ecosystems. Our project uses mixed social and natural science research methods to explore the use of silvopasture systems by cattle producers in Washington State. In addition to its potential to diversify farm income, silvopasture research is critical for this region because of the prevalence of cattle grazing on forested lands and the potential for well-managed silvopasture systems to reduce wildfire severity. In spite of its potential, the dynamics of silvopasture systems are poorly understood in the Pacific Northwest. Our project aims to address this knowledge gap through participatory research and education with producers. Our first phase of research uses personal interviews and farm visits to investigate producer goals for their mixed timber and pasture areas in order to identify priorities and barriers to implementation of silvopasture systems. Our second phase of research partners with producers who are already practicing silvopasture to examine its performance utilizing both field research and interview data. The final project phase employs collaborative and experiential on-farm learning approaches led by producer hosts to demonstrate research findings and share practices, augmented by a variety of publications and electronic media to share results among farmers and agricultural professionals and to address the informational needs identified in phase one. Expected outcomes are the identification of barriers to silvopasture implementation, new knowledge about the ecological and socioeconomic dimensions of silvopasture, contributions to the academic and extension literature, and, ultimately, producer innovations and improved practices. 

Project Objectives:

(1) Determine the ecological, social, and economic goals of cattle producers for their mixed grazing and timber lands

(2) Work with producer practitioners to assess the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of their existing silvopasture systems

(3) Identify barriers to implementation and maintenance of managed silvopasture systems

(4) Collaboratively share knowledge and results among current and potential producer practitioners, agricultural and forestry professionals, and scientists

Timeline:

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sue and David Glichrist - Producer
  • Christina Kincaid - Producer
  • Andy Perleberg, Marcia Ostrom - Technical Advisor
  • Beth Robinette - Producer
  • Patrick Shults
  • Dr. Matthew Smith - Technical Advisor (Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:

Objective 1 of this project is to determine the ecological, social, and economic goals of cattle producers for their mixed grazing and timber lands utilizing the following methods.

1. Work with agriculture and forestry professionals to build a list of Washington cattle producers who already utilize silvopasture practices or have a suitable site and may be interested in establishing silvopasture practices.

In order to locate and contact silvopasture practitioners, researchers first reached out to the Pacific Northwest Agroforestry working group as the goal of this group is to assess the current status of PNW agroforestry education, research, and outreach activities.  Researchers then contacted Washington State University (WSU) forestry and agricultural extension personnel as these individuals continuously conduct outreach and education with landowners.  After reaching out to multiple WSU forestry and agriculture personnel, researchers learned that two of the Conservation Districts within Washington State had conducted silvopasture outreach and education with landowners. Thus researchers reached out to all the Conservation Districts within the state that have suitable ecosystems and agricultural infrastructure to support silvopasture systems for assistance in identifying suitable producers. Finally, researchers are currently in the process of identifying and contacting landowners who both practice grazing and have timberlands through several online databases associated with regenerative agriculture, holistic management and local food systems. The outcome of this outreach process has resulted in database of potential landowners who may be practicing silvopasture or who may be interested in practicing silvopasture.

2. Finalize interview questionnaire.

A producer questionnaire was drafted by Batcheler and suggested revisions from advisors were incorporated.  Question design, questioning order, and the interview format were designed followeing the guidelines for semi-structured personal interviews  set out by Lune and Berg (2016: 69). The questionnaire has two parts: Part A is designed for all producer participants and covers basic questions about the characteristics of the farm and its business model; a natural, social and economic resource assessment; livestock numbers; and open-ended questions about producer goals for their mixed timber/pastureland from an environmental, economic, and environmental standpoint. Part B is only for current practitioners of silvopasture. Questions ask details about the type of silvopasture system employed and measure its performance economically, socially, and ecologically from the farmer’s perspective. Questions cover the financial costs and benefits, the profitability of the timber and the cattle operations, the labor required for establishment and maintenance of the silvopasture system, the ongoing management requirements, obstacles encountered and whether the silvopasture system has contributed to producer quality of life.

3. Develop interview protocol/4. Field test questionnaire

An on-site interview protocol was developed and field tested with a producer as recommended by Lune and Berg 2016: 126. The final version of the interview and the interview protocol was submitted to the WSU IRB for approval. Because of Covid-19, we decided to conduct interviews via telephone rather than site visits.

5. Send invitation letters by email to producer list.

Batcheler is in the process of screening and making initial contacts with producers from the list via email and inviting producers who fit the criteria for the study to schedule telephone interviews.

6. Carry out personal interviews with 15-20 farmers.

In progress.

Objective 2 of this project is to work with producer practitioners to assess the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of their existing silvopasture systems.

1. Identify private landowners who utilize forest grazing practices and forest management practices

Batcheler has identified six land owners that utilize at least one of the three types of identified grazing practices (silvopasture  prescribed grazing, and unmanaged grazing) an comparing these lands to ungrazed and unmanaged lands.  All sites have similar soil types, plant associations and effective precipitation regimes. Batcheler and Dr. Swanson have implemented a factorial design that would compare these land management practices and assess if silvopasture reduced both fine and woody fuels in comparison to other land management practices.

2. Continue to collect ecological data 

Four plots per property were established through the use of  randomized plot determination (from point of entry into the stand, choose a random number between (10-50m) and a random azimuth to determine starting plot location, leave a minimum buffer of 30 meters of stand to reduce edge effect). Plot size was determined by stand density and varies in size in low-density stands (1/5th hectare to 1/20th hectare).

The following ecological data has been collected at each plot:

Tree variables

1)Number of trees by species, for trees 1 cm- 10 cm dbh (diameter at breast height 1.37m) 
2)Height and H/D ratio, and Crown ratio using laser rangefinder

Soil Variables

 1) Soil compaction was measured at six different point within the radius of each plot at two different depths (3 inches and 6 inches)

2) Soil infiltration was measured once at each plot using a double ring infiltrometer. Time of infiltration was recorded 

3) 15 Soil samples cores per plot were taken at two different depths (0-5cm) and (5-15cm) and are currently being  analyzed  for pH,  electrical conductivity, organic and inorganic nitrogen and Pox C

Fuel loads and types

Three 20 meter transects were established in a triangular fashion around the center of the plot to assess the following: 

1) Down woody debris greater than 7.62 cm in line intercept was recorded along with the following information:species, diameter, and decay class.
2) Fine fuels were assessed at 2m intervals along each transect. Depth of litter and duff layers were measured and recorded in cm

3) 1, 10, 100 hour fuels were counted and recorded along the first 4 meters of each transect 

Forage crops and percent coverage of preferred forage species

Researchers established four 10 meter transects using cardinal directions with each transect originating at plot center. Two Daubenmire quadrates were established along each transect  at 4m and 8m respectively.  The following information was collected in each Daubenmire quadrate:

      1. Identification of individual plants to genus or species and estimated percent understory cover and height
      2. Biomass samples were randomly selected from two of the Daubenmire plots.  All biomass was harvested from 2cm above ground. Biomass is currently being dried and weighed. These data will be used to create models that convert visual estimates to biomass estimates.

Cattle grazing:

1)  Landowners will be interviewed to determine historic and current stocking rates of livestock

Analysis of field data has not begun yet.

3. Collecting Economic and Social Data:

IRB approved interviews have been conducted with participating landowners to determine economic goals and objectives as related to 1) forest/timber and forage management  and 2) livestock stocking and management.  Interviews focused on social drivers, such as historic and current management goals, concerns about fire, soil erosion and land productivity

Objective 3 is to identify barriers to implementation and maintenance of managed silvopasture systems by analyzing the interview and on-farm research data.

Not started yet.

Objective 4 is to collaboratively share knowledge and results among current and potential producer practitioners, agricultural professionals and scientists

Researchers have begun to network with WSU extension and conservation districts to establish an agroforestry working group in order to provide training and collaborative sharing of knowledge gained from this project as well as to determine methods best suited for sharing of knowledge amongst different agencies 

Research results and discussion:

This project is still in the beginning phases of collecting interview and field data. Field data will be collected through the end of July and then initial field data will be analyzed in late summer and early fall. Interview data will be collected and analyzed over the winter.

Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

This research project has just begun collecting both qualitative and quantitative research.  Outreach and Educational activities are scheduled to begin next year

Project Outcomes

Did this project contribute to a larger project?:
Yes
15 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The potential for this project to affect agricultural sustainability is two fold. First, the needs assessment will provide conservation districts and WSU extension with a database of silvopasture practitioners that will describe their environmental, social economic goals.  

Secondly, this project will provide a comparative analysis among silvopasture, prescribed grazing, ungrazed and unmanaged lands and the impacts these practices have on fuel loads and plant diversity. Understanding how silvopasture impacts fire severity and ecosystem diversity in Eastern Washington will provide farmers, ranchers, WSU extension, NRCS and local conversation districts with foundational knowledge on best management practices (BMPs) for overstory and forage production. 

Knowledge Gained:

The two phases of this research project are still in the initial information gathering stage.  For the social science aspect, our team has identified 15+ silvopasture practitioners around the state and we are continuing to develop our needs assessment.  We have learned that there several gradations of silvopasture as well as other forms of agroforestry throughout Washington State that suggest the need for a more comprehensive documentation of all agroforestry practices statewide. 

For the natural science portion of this research project we have collected data from seven unique sites in order to quantify the impacts of silvopasture on fire severity.  As of yet we do not have conclusive data, however preliminary data suggests that both silvopasture and prescribed grazing as defined by NRCS may reduce both downed woody debris as well as fine fuels.

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.