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

Final report for GW20-208

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $24,998.00
Projected End Date: 11/01/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G151-21-W7902
Grant Recipient: Washington State Univeristy
Region: Western
State: Washington
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Marcia Ostrom
School of Environment, Washington State University
Principal Investigator:
Mark Batcheler
Washington State Univeristy
Lynne Carpenter-Boggs
Washington State University
Dr. Mark Swanson
Washington State Univeristy
Expand All

Project Information


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



Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Ian Clark - Producer
  • Christina Kincaid - Producer
  • Beth Robineette - Technical Advisor
  • Patrick Shults - Producer
  • Dr. Matt Smith (Researcher)
  • Carrie Brausieck - Technical Advisor
  • Terry Boston


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 identified landowners who both practice grazing and have timberlands through several online databases associated with regenerative agriculture, holistic management and local food systems and contacted them. The outcome of this outreach process resulted in a database listing potential landowners who were potentially practicing silvopasture or could 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 following the guidelines for semi-structured personal interviews  set out by Lune and Berg (2016: 69). The questionnaire had two parts: Part A was designed for all producer participants and contained basic questions about the characteristics of the farm and its business model; its natural, social and economic resource base; livestock numbers; and open-ended questions about producer goals for their mixed timber/pastureland from an environmental, economic, and environmental standpoint. Part B was only for current practitioners of silvopasture. Questions asked details about the type of silvopasture system employed and measured its performance economically, socially, and ecologically from the farmer’s perspective. Questions covered the financial costs and benefits of using silvopasture, 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 had 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. In the end, because of Covid-19, we decided to conduct all interviews via telephone rather than site visits.

5. Send invitation letters by email to producer list.

Batcheler made initial contacts with producers from the list via email and telephone calls and invited producers who fit the criteria for the study to schedule telephone interviews.

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

19 farmer interviews were completed.

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 identified six land owners that utilized at least one of the three types of identified grazing practices (silvopasture  prescribed grazing, and unmanaged grazing) an compared these lands to ungrazed and unmanaged lands.  All sites had similar soil types, plant associations and effective precipitation regimes. Batcheler and Dr. Swanson implemented a factorial design in order to compare these land management practices and assess whether 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, leaving 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 was 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 were interviewed to determine historic and current stocking rates of livestock

Analysis of field data is underway.

3. Collecting Economic and Social Data:

IRB approved interviews were 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.

The interview data has been transcribed and analyzed, however, not all of the on-farm research data has been incorporated yet. Findings from the farmer interviews are displayed in the Tables below under the results section. Preliminary results from on-farm field research are also discussed below in the results section.

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. As detailed in the outreach section below, multiple educational events and presentations were made by Batcheler at professional conferences, online trainings, and farmer events. An online farmer training was organized through the WSU Cultivating Success Sustainable Small Farming Education Program.

Research results and discussion:

Socioeconomic research

Our research revealed that silvopasture systems have not been well researched for their socioeconomic and environmental impacts whether negative or positive and, in particular, have not been studied in the state. Exploration of the Web of Science and Scopus using the search terms: silvopasture, forest grazing, agroforestry and Washington determined the extant of published literature was limited. Research conducted by the Department of Natural and Washington State University employed a statewide survey on the awareness and perceptions of agroforestry (Lawrence and Hardesty, 1992). The result of this study determined that there was general awareness of agroforestry but a lack of technical knowledge and assistance. Further research conducted by Oregon State University examined silvopasture establishment and impacts on forage and soil quality and quantity (Sharrow, 1999, 2004, 2007). Investigation of Federal databases revealed the only funded research was through Western SARE titled “Silvopastoral Alternatives for Fruit Growers” which investigated the economic and ecological impacts of incorporating livestock using silvopasture methods. A freedom of information act request provided evidence that from 2012-2018, the National Resources Conservation Service processed 6 Environmental Quality Incentives Program grants for the purpose of establishing or supporting on going silvopasture systems on private property in four counties in Washington State.

From key informant interviews with partner organizations we learned that knowledge and perceptions of silvopasture are varied among organizations. Of the twenty conservation districts contacted, six are actively working with or aware of silvopasture practitioners. Among these six conservation districts, knowledge of best management practices (grazing density per acre, optimized overstory and understory composition) relied on multiple specialists (foresters and livestock specialists) for management input due to the integrated nature of silvopasture. All six districts noted that the lack of literature available to professionals and practitioners stemmed adoption. Among the interviewed conservation districts varied perceptions of silvopasture occur. The conservation district associated with the county that two NRCS EQIP grants for silvopasture in 2018 was unaware of any silvopasture systems in the county and said: “This is a practice we recommend against, mainly because the damage to the forest stand far out ways any benefits - there's little if any forage in western Washington forest stands. You would know far better than I, but I think grazing forest stands would have more benefits in eastern Washington.” Another conservation district was unsure if silvopasture was being practiced due the scale of the farm “We have a couple of folks who are grazing their forest land but it probably isn’t silvopasture as they are mostly hobby scale.” These perspectives likely serve as barriers to adoption (Orefice, et. al 2017).

Some NRCS staff members were aware of landowners using silvopasture, stating that  “we work with quite a few landowners who graze livestock in a silvopasture system and some we have funded via EQIP to do this type of work.” As the names and contact information of the landowners are protected by Federal law and cannot be disclosed, it is likely that this research project is an incomplete census of all silvopasture systems statewide. In addition to the wide range of perspectives and experiences, partner organizations noted that they relied on agroforestry literature that was not regionally or ecologically specific to Washington State.  The challenge with relying on literature from other regions is that silvopasture looks different in various parts of the U.S.  (Huntsinger, et. al.,  1999, Brodt, et. al 2019).  Finally, it was noted in discussions with partner organizations, that terminology and definitions of silvopasture varied greatly. The terms "forest grazing" and "silvopasture" were used interchangeably by many organizations even though  silvopasture incorporates the usage of managed grazing.  Other challenges arose as agencies have different goals for establishing silvopasture. The NRCS goals focus more on resource concerns such as reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing wildlife habitat. The USDA National Agroforestry Center has goals that focus on diversifying incomes, forage production, and improved habitat for livestock.  While these are not mutually exclusive objectives, the interpretation of these goals by partner organizations greatly influenced the perceived understanding of what silvopasture is and how and why this management system should be funded and supported.

From the farmer/rancher interviews, Table 1 shows there is a bimodal split in the number of years farmers/ranchers had been the principal operator of a farm/ranch with 36% having less than 10 years of experience and 31% having more than 30 years of experience. In terms of utilizing silvopasture on their current farm/ranch, 42% have 1-10 years of experience using silvopasture on their current property which coincides with research conducted in other regions in the U.S. (Orefice et. al 2017). There are primarily two types of silvopasture systems that have been identified, the first is livestock integration with orchards and the second is the more common type of livestock integration into a managed forest in which pre-existing stand has been thinned and forage management occurs prior to livestock integration. Two of the landowners had both orchards and forests on the same property. In terms of acreage, 57% of farmers/ranchers operated on lands that were between 81-1100 acres and 42% operated on lands that were less than 80 acres.  Interview participants were asked about their investments in silvopasture infrastructure such as fencing and irrigation, however only four landowners were unsure as to specific costs as they were not keeping financial records.  Participants were asked to estimate yearly management costs and associated indirect costs.  Only four landowners were able to give estimates for yearly management costs ranging between $1500 and $10,000 per year. Only two landowners could estimate indirect costs ranging between $100 and $2000 per year. An estimate of direct economic benefits from livestock (meat or wool sales) and forest/orchard (timber, fruit, and nut sales) was unavailable with only two landowners able to estimate yearly income. These landowners estimated that total annual sales of meat and/or wool were between $50,000-$100,000.

Commodities comprised five main categories with a majority producing more than one type of commodity. All landowners produced either meat, wool, or dairy. Firewood was a common secondary product as a result of forest thinning particularly for landowners whose forest stands are composed of Ponderosa Pine, Red alder, Garry oak, Big Leaf maple, Pacific madrone. Timber was a commodity for landowners who had diverse forest stands of Douglas fir, Grand fir, Western larch, and Western cedar. Wood pulp was commodity for landowners who land was primary composed of Ponderosa Pine.  Asian pears, kiwis, chestnuts, cider apples, hazelnuts comprise the scope of fruit and nuts grown in silvopasture systems.

Table 1 Characteristics of silvopasture farms/ranches  (N = 19)




  Western Washington                                      10

  Eastern Washington                                       9

Silvopasture type

            Orchard                                                           5

            Forest                                                              17

Years farming/ranching

            1-10 years                                                       7

            11-20 years                                                     3

            21-30 years                                                     3

            31-60 years                                                     6

Years using silvopasture on current land                  

            1-10                                                                 8

            11-20                                                               2

            21-30                                                               3

            31-60                                                               6

Acres operated                                                          

1-10 acres                                                                  3

11-80 acres                                                                5 

81-800 acres                                                             5

800-1100 acres                                                        6

Commodities produced

Meat, Dairy, Wool                                                   19

Firewood                                                                   7

Timber                                                                       5

Wood pulp                                                                2

Fruit/Nut                                                                  6

Livestock species and composition fell into two main categories as seen in Table 2. Farms that utilized multiple species and farms using single species.  Multi-species farms follow a prescribed rotational grazing regime in which each species grazed in separately in specific paddocks or grazed paddocks asynchronously. Farms/Ranches using multi-species and single species determined the timing and duration of livestock rotation based on livestock species, herd size, forage residual height, vegetation status and yearly precipitation. The number of yearly grazing events per paddock range from 1-7 times with an average of two grazing events per paddock per year. Paddocks that were grazed more than 3 times in a year were irrigated. Paddock size varied and was dependent upon the number of livestock and farm size. The average number of paddocks on a given farm was 20 with an average paddock size of approximately 6.74 acres with range of 1.5 acres to 15 acres.

Concerns with livestock grazing in forest stands and orchards were driven primarily by tree species composition. For landowners who operated cow/calf operations and had forest stands with Ponderosa pine there was a concern about induced abortion caused by consummation of green pine needles. All landowners who have a cow/calf operation and Ponderosa pine reported that they had experienced this multiple times.  Pruning trees, grazing regimes and timing of paddock grazing could reduce abortion rates however wind or tree/branch fall is unpredictable. (Panter et.al. 2002;  Pfister et.al. 2002) Quantity and quality of forage were also a concern as decreased light availability decreases the lbs./per acre of available forage. (Sharrow, 1991; Mercier, et.al 2019;Lindgren and Sullivan, 2013). Forage quality is also a management issue as shade tolerant species occurring in forest stands may be low in nutrients (Buergler, 2006).

Table 2 Livestock Species and Grazing Management (N=19)


Farms utilizing multi-species                                                              (n=5)

            Livestock groupings

            Katahdin Sheep, Kuni-Kuni and Berkshire pig                       1

            Finnish Sheep Heritage turkey, broilers, goats                       2         

            Cow/calf, Horse, goats                                                                 1                                             

            Cow/Calf, Stud, pigs                                                                     1

Farms utilizing single-species                                                             (n=14)

            Livestock type

            Cow/calf                                                                                         7

            Cheviot Sheep, Finn and Sally (wool)                                      1

            Katahdin Sheep                                                                            3

Herford, old spot, Berkshire pig                                                           1

Jersey (dairy)                                                                                            1

Suffolk sheep                                                                                            1

Paddock Size                                                                                    (acres)

            Average                                                                                   6.74

            Median                                                                                    2.0

            Range                                                                                      14.75

            Mode                                                                                      15

Herd size (number of head)

10-20                                                                                       2

21-50                                                                                       7

51-100                                                                                     2

101-200                                                                                   7

201-500                                                                                   1         

Concerns about animal health in forest/orchard grazing

Forage quality/quantity                                                          13

Pine needle abortion                                                              10

 Parasite loads                                                                         2

The amount of silvopasture on each farm/ranch ranged from 2 acres to 1000 acres with a median of 20 acres of silvopasture per site (Table 3).  Silvopasture conversion occurs through forest management practices such as pre-commercial or commercial thinning of existing stands resulting in a median of 3 unique forest stands per property. 11 of landowners worked with a forester or were foresters themselves. Only 2 landowners who worked with a forester stated the forester did not approve of livestock integration. In Eastern Washington silvopasture sites have even-age stand structure with primary species composition, Ponderosa pine, Douglas Fir and Grand fir. Outlier species include Western Cedar, Lodgepole, and Western hemlock. Western Washington sites are more varied in forest structure and composition with uneven and even age stand management being the most common systems. Most common forest species included Douglas Fir, Red Alder, Cottonwood, and Garry Oak. 11 of the 19 sites utilized natural stand regeneration with 4 sites using both natural regeneration and intentional planting.

Conversion of pastures to silvopasture only occurred at four sites and involved orchard establishment.  Landowner goals for forest stands were primarily ecosystem services that benefited the integration of livestock (shade, wildlife habitat, soil moisture retention for forage). Merchantable timber and other forest products including firewood production was a strong secondary goal for all landowners with forests.


Table 3 Forest/Orchard Composition and Management


Acres composed of forest/orchard                            (N=19)

            1-10 acres                                                       5

            11-100 acres                                                   7

            101-800 acres                                                6

            800-1100 acres                                              1

Acres composed of pasture

            1-10 acres                                                       5

            11-100 acres                                                  6

            101-800 acres                                               7

            800-1100 acres                                            1

Number of forest/orchard stands                              (percent)

            Average                                                                  3.37

            Median                                                                   3.00

            Range                                                                     9.00

            Mode                                                                       4

Converted pasture to forest/orchard                        

            Yes                                                                  4

            No                                                                   15

Method of forest/orchard regeneration

            Natural regeneration                                      11

            Plant seedlings (orchard only)                     4

            Both                                                                   4

Worked with a forester

            Yes                                                                      11

            No                                                                        4

            NA (orchard establishment)                          4

Dominant tree species (Forest)

            Ponderosa Pine                                               6

            Red Alder                                                         4

            Douglas Fir                                                      2

            Grand Fir                                                         1

            Garry Oak                                                        1

            Cottonwood                                                    1

Primary Tree Species (Orchard)

            Hazelnuts                                                        2

            Asian pear                                                       1

            Chestnuts                                                        1


Understory forage species selection and management vary greatly between western and eastern Washington due to the delineation of soil types, temperature and precipitation regimes. Six eastern Washington landowners reported that they introduced preferred forages through broadcasting seed by hand or through the use of a no-till seed drill along the edges of forest stands or in recently thinned stands.  Using these methods, seeding typically occurred in October or November after the first Autumn rains and after a paddock had been grazed by livestock. An additional method involved broadcasting seed in areas where slash piles were burned or where bales placed during winter. Using this method, seeding occurred in late winter or early spring.  Four landowners in Eastern Washington who used this method determined that this was the only time that mineral soil was adequately available for successful forage propagation. Additional forage management includes removing undesirable plants. 4 of the 10 landowners named snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Common Mullein (Verbascum thapus) and Rose (Rosa multiflora)

In contrast, 5 out of the 9 western Washington landowners introduced preferred forages after discing, grazing, or herbicide application. Timing of seeding varied among landowners: those with irrigated pastures seeded in early spring, while those who rely on yearly precipitation seeded after the first Autumn rains.  Undesirable plants varied depending on livestock species.  Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) is undesired by landowners who have cattle and poultry. Landowners who have goats, pigs and meat sheep prefer to have blackberry for forage. Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) was named by 6 out of 9 of the landowners as a undesirable plant.

Table 4 Common forage plants that are either planted or selectively managed for livestock

Grasses                                                                            Forbes                                    

Italian rye (Lolium spp.)                                              Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Triticale (×Triticosecale)                                             Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis)                               Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Oatgrass (Danthonia spp.)                                          Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium spp.)                                White clover (Trifolium repens)

Annual ryegrass (Lolium spp.)                                    Small Burnet (Sanguisorba minor)

Timothy (Phleum pratense)                                        Sub clover (Trifolium subterraneum)

Orchard Grass (Dactylis spp.)                                     Alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum)

Meadow Brome (Bromus commutatus)                                

Mountain Brome (Bromus carinatus )

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis)

Landowners utilize silvopasture for a few specific reasons (Table 5). All 19 landowners indicated that diversification of income streams, predictable revenue, shade and a perceived increase interaction with their farm/ranch and livestock were reasons for silvopasture adoption. 15 out of 19 landowners indicated that intentional integration of livestock and trees provided greater utilization of their existing forests.  The use of managed intensive grazing allowing flexibility was cited by most of the landowners. 12 landowners indicated that there was increase in ecosystem services (provisioning: raw materials of fuel, timber; regulation: climate regulation, controlling parasites; aesthetics: beauty and recreation; supporting services:  Perceived increase in biodiversity and nutrient cycling).

The time and cost of moving and managing rotationally grazed livestock as well as the costs of purchasing and maintaining permanent and portable electrical fences is the primary challenge associated with silvopasture. 9 landowners indicated that using rotational grazing requires consistent and constant time allocation. With the addition of trees comes a decrease in photosynthetically active radiation and thus less forage quantity  This is recognized as a specific challenge among landowners whose property is primarily composed of forest or woodlands. The impact of livestock on tree regeneration is additional complication that is specific to landowners.  Fire is a concern for landowners who live in arid zones or whose property is adjacent to unmanaged private or public forests.

Table 5 Reasons for silvopasture establishment (n=19)

Diverse income streams                                                                         19                                           

Predictable revenue                                                                                 19

Shade for livestock                                                                                   19

(Perceived) Increased interaction with landscape/livestock          19       

Adaptability of manage intensive grazing                                           15

Comprehensive utilization of existing forests                                     15

(Perceived) increase in ecosystem services                                          12       

Aesthetic values                                                                                         10


Challenges of silvopasture:     

Time and labor moving animals and electric fences                          14       

Less quality and quantity of forages                                                       12

Impact of grazing on tree regeneration                                                  6

(Perceived) threat of fire                                                                            6

Cost of permanent fencing                                                                        3

Of the 19 landowners who participated in this research project only one landowner knew of someone else practicing silvopasture. According to landowners this lack of awareness of other practitioners is in part due to a lack of forestry and agricultural agencies who understand silvopasture in Washington State. Conversely, the landowners acknowledged that they felt confident in their own management systems and thus do not seek out specialists unless they encounter a specific issue. Landowners also expressed that they have developed reliance on out-of-state resources including universities, professional organizations, conferences, or online resources to determine best management practices for their silvopasture systems.

Topics that landowners desired to know more were multidisciplinary (Table 6). When asked what research or information would support their operation a majority of the responses focused on site productivity. Ten landowners want to know more about which forages would be most productive on their land and which would have the most nutritional benefit for their livestock.  Half of the landowners would like workshops or research on ensuring tree survival and protection from livestock. Preventing soil compaction caused by forest and livestock management is a topic of concern for many landowners as reduction of invasive species.

Table 6 Information that landowners would like to access

­­­­­­­­Forage Management                                                                          10

Tree Protection/Regeneration                                                           8         

Preventing soil compaction                                                                6

Management of invasive/noxious weeds                                         5

Opportunities for funding                                                                   4


Silvopasture in Washington State is unique in its design driven in part by a range of microclimates causing landowners to adapt their silvopasture systems to a mosaic of forest or afforested landscapes. In conjunction with ecological drivers the economic valuation of timber species, forest/orchard products and livestock act as primary motivators of landowner goals for their silvopasture systems.  The main components of silvopasture: livestock, trees and forage comprise heterogenous yet pragmatic site-specific applications that can be best defined by the intentional integration of intensively managed crops, forage and livestock into a system that relies upon interactions of the biotic components. Using the USDA definition of silvopasture which is the deliberate integration of trees and grazing livestock operations on the same land, this survey has identified 19 small to medium farms/ranches seeking social, economic, and ecological resiliency and adaptability through the use of silvopasture in Washington State. The challenge with this working definition is the relatively new utilization of this term. Research conducted in Washington State in the 1990s referred to forest grazing as an agroforestry practice (Lawrence and Hardesty, 1992). While of the 19 landowners surveyed all participants were familiar with the term agroforestry, only 12 landowners refered to their land management systems as silvopasture. Of the landowners interviewed, 7 olandowners use the term forest grazing when referring to their operation despite intentionally integrating livestock into a forest stand and utilizing managed intensive grazing practices in combination with managing the overstory and understory vegetation.  In discussions with key informant organizations, regardless of the intensive management design of silvopasture, the incorporation of livestock grazing into existing forest stands in regions is interpreted by professionals as forest grazing. This is a misperception that is repeated in other regions (Smith et. al 2022).  This may be in part due to the interdisciplinary nature of  silvopasture which requires the use of and knowledge of rotational grazing to prevent soil compaction and tree damage (Gabriel, S., 2018).  Skill in forage management under a treed canopy to ensure forage quality and quantity is also needed (Gabriel, S., 2018; Frey and Fike, 2018). Finally, knowledge of forest structure and composition is a prerequisite. Comprehension of site variability, potential natural vegetation, slope, aspect, elevation, soil types and precipitation regimes are necessary to ensure adequate tree growth, minimize disease and pathogens and maintain site productivity (Nyland, 2016; Pent et. al 2021).  As reported in the survey; in addition to foresters, landowners have consulted conservation districts to discuss resource concerns, NRCS staff to discuss forage management, and livestock specialists from UC Davis to request assistance in grazing management that reduces parasite loads.  Collectively the gaps in working knowledge of agroecosystems may inhibit professionals from seeking and/or recommending adoption; as well as limit funding opportunities available to farmers/ranchers.  Compounding this issue is a lack of regionally specific literature and knowledge of long term ecological, social, and economic research on silvopasture in Washington State.

Despite the complexity of silvopasture systems and a lack of relevant literature and resources; the landowners surveyed have designed and invested in robust management systems.  These early adopters rely on previous forest management and/or grazing and farming experience to inform their land management. As one respondent noted “you need to be hungry and be constantly looking for resources, look for passionate people who are interested in passing on their knowledge.”  A majority of landowners who have 10 years or more of experience have not defined their practices as silvopasture, but rather rely on their intuitive knowledge resulting from years of livestock and forage management to influence their land management decisions. For example, one respondent reflected that “ I have been doing this long before you all called this silvopasture, and I’ll keep doing it even after you change the name.”  Yet there is evidence that the lack of a clearly accepted definition of silvopasture has resulted in barriers faced by landowners. It is notable that 16 out of the 19 landowners stated that they experienced challenges caused by the lack of understanding by professionals who discourage them from integrating livestock into forest/orchards. One land owner lamented that “Any (professional) I talk to cannot tell me the number of trees I should have on my property to ensure I have good forage for my cows, the best they can do is point me to a rangeland specialist or an article written in another state.” 

Making progress on the identification and definition of silvopasture systems in Washington State could be a primary step to removing barriers, developing best management practices, securubg more resources, and addressing potential social, economic, and ecological challenges. There is an opportunity for foresters, livestock and agricultural specialists to learn from and mimic success of state and federal organizations and universities in other parts of the U.S.

Ecological Research 

The impacts of silvopasture practices on fuel loads, soil health metrics and forest structure and composition are still be analyzed. Preliminary analysis shows that silvopasture results in similar reduction of litter and vegetation as continuous grazing. continuous grazing was defined by  defined by Allen. et. al 2010.  However the rates of fuels reduction occurs much more rapidly using silvopasture primarily due to higher average stocking density of livestock at all silvopasture sites. Silvopasture achieved the same fuels loads (measured in tons/per acre) of litter and vegetation as continuous grazing in approximately 14 day.  Continuous grazing achieved the same fuels loads (measured in tons/per acre) in approximately 140 days.  

Preliminary results of fuels loads

For 1,10,100,1000 hour fuels loads (measured in tons per acre), there is no significant difference in silvopasture and continuous grazed sites. There was a significant difference between managed forests and unmanaged forests. This suggests that mechanistically managed forests (with or without grazing) reduces 1, 10,100, 1000 hour fuels by thinning forest stands thus removing a source of these types of fuels.  

In terms of litter and duff, silvopasture reduced litter amounts significantly more than continuous grazing and un-grazed sites.  Mechanistically, this due to the higher stocking density of silvopasture when compared to the lower stocking density of continuously grazed sites.  The reduction of litter is significant as litter helps "carry" fire across a landscape. 

It terms of surface fuels (defined as standing vegetation composed of grasses, forms and shrubs and new cohort of trees under 2 meter in height) silvopasture sites have an  alpha level of significance.  Silvopasture sites had the lowest surface fuels when compared to continuously grazed  and un-grazed sites.  Mechanistically this is due the higher stocking density of silvopasture sites.  

Participation Summary
19 Producers participating in research

Research Outcomes

Recommendations for sustainable agricultural production and future research:

1. Recommendations for educating and updating professionals regarding agroforestry and silvopasture concepts and definitions.

A primary conclusion of this research is that the definition and awareness of silvopasture are not well accepted among various entities. Making progress on standardizing the identification and definition of silvopasture systems in Washington State could be a primary step to removing barriers, developing best management practices, securing more resources, and addressing potential social, economic, and ecological challenges. There is an opportunity for foresters, livestock and agricultural specialists to learn from and mimic success of state and federal organizations and universities in other parts of the U.S.

For example, when working with NRCS staff, it was noted that the staff had unique and outdated definitions of silvopasture that vary among staff and differ from other NRCS across the nation. In regions where silvopasture is well researched and practiced.  NRCS staff interviewed in the scope of this research recognized that silvopasture requires the management of the forest/orchard, rotational grazing and managing or improving forage.  Contrary to this, NRCS staff in Washington State indicated that silvopasture was defined primarily by the improvement of forage.  In other parts of the state,  the practice of forest grazing as defined by NRCS was used interchangeably with silvopasture even though these two types of management practices vary greatly in their goals and objectives.  Multiple landowners interviewed for this research project indicated that this lack of understanding impeded the establishment and funding for silvopasture through the use of EQIP grants.

Similarly conservation districts in Washington State seemed to have little to no knowledge of silvopasture.  Most of the information communicated by conservation districts concluded that integrating livestock and forests would have a negative ecological impact. A small number of conservation districts that employ a combination of foresters and agricultural and livestock specialists are the primary supportors of forest grazing and silvopasture. This seems to result from the collective education and knowledge gained through multiple disciplines and personnel working collaboratively. 

Washington State University rangeland and livestock specialists reported that they do not believe that silvopasture is practiced in Washington State in particular due to the ecological limitations (precipitation regimes and thus a lack of quality and quantity of forage in managed forests/orchards).  When speaking with staff, researchers determined that rangeland specialists: 1) have an incomplete understanding of the ecological and economic valuation of silvopasture and 2) actively discourage landowners from grazing livestock in managed forest.  

Based on other regions of the United States where silvopasture and other agroforestry practices are becoming more prevalent, what is needed is interagency and multidisciplinary cooperation to educate and update professionals in addition to landowners. 

2. Recommendations for further research.

Ecological Impacts 

This research project found that silvopasture is practiced across the state in both xeric and mesic forests. As climate change continues to alter temperature and precipitation regimes, xeric sites will experience greater biotic stress. Livestock management needs to monitored closely to determine the impact of grazing regimes on understory composition and structure as well as soil metrics.  In more mesic sites where seasonal flooding is likely to occur with increased frequency, research is needed to more closely monitor bacterial and nutrient loading. The potential influx of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria is a concern due to the presence of livestock. Increased flooding could transport excess nutrients into lentic and lotic waters resulting in potentially harmful algal blooms, anoxic conditions, and harmful levels of bacteria. 

Economic Impacts

This research found that most silvopasture practitioners have little understanding of the economic perameters of their systems and therefore limited ability to analyze their economic viability.  Economic calculators, similar to those used for agroforestry practices in the Southeastern portion of the U.S., could be created for both eastern and western Washington to help professionals and landowners determine whether silvopasture and other agroforestry practices are economically beneficial or viable. 


1 Grant received that built upon this project
15 New working collaborations

Education and Outreach

25 Consultations
1 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
6 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days
12 Other educational activities: As a result of this research, a collaborative effort to increase awareness and comprehension of agroforestry practices has gained traction among professionals (conservation districts, NRCS, NGOs ). An agroforestry working group has been established and is giving bi-monthly presentations and forums on topics centered around agroforestry. This group has established a website and is working with academics, NGOS, state and federal entities to educate professionals who work with farmers and ranchers.

Participation Summary:

40 Farmers participated
60 Ag professionals participated
Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Because of Covid-19 we had to cancel our on-farm seminars that we had originally planned for this project as part of the WSU Food Systems/Tilth Farm Walk Series. Instead we conducted an interactive, statewide, online training for producers through the Washington State University (WSU) Cultivating Success Sustainable Small Farming Education Program. This seminar reached 41 producers who were working on developing management plans for their farms and ranches.  Mark Batcheler provided an introduction to the concepts of agroforestry and silvopasture and shared his research findings. We also invited a farmer cooperator who had hosted one of our field research sites to speak to the participants about our research project and about the grazing and forestry management practices they utilize on their farm.  Two members of this ranch family, Maurice and Beth Robinette, have worked with WSU previously on other research and education projects and are skilled educators who were able to address a wide variety of topics relevant to the research as well as lead interactive discussions addressing many of the practical questions that other farmers and ranchers had regarding effective livestock and silvopasture management strategies. Evaluations from this online course are included below.

A  link to the Cultivating Success Program which is the Sustainable Small Farming Education program for which the training was conducted.  One of the online sessions of the fall Cultivating Success course series called “Whole Farm Planning” was a peer-to-peer farmer training which involved a presentation that I organized. I gave an introduction to the concepts of agroforestry and silvopasture that was then followed by presentations and a Q&A session with long time producers Beth and Maurice Robinette of LazyR Beef who were hosts for my on-farm research.  I pasted the survey below that was given to the 41 participants in this session (Batcheler, M.; Robinette M., and B. Robinette. (2022). “The Ins and outs of Silvopasture Management in the Pacific Northwest,” Whole Farm Planning Cultivating Success Virtual Course Series, WSU Food Systems Program, Oct. 28, 6:00-8:30 PM.).

The published press releases are  here and here and here.  Batcheler, M. (2021) “Do You Mix Forestry, Farming, and Foraging? WSU Researchers Need Your Help,” Forest Stewardship Notes, Washington State University Extension and Washington State Department of Natural Resources, June 3. https://foreststewardshipnotes.wordpress.com/2021/06/03/do-you-mix-forestry-farming-and-foraging-wsu-researchers-need-your-help/

NACD Blog. (2022) Washington State district explores forest farming opportunities, National Association of Conservation Districts, May 12.  


The six webinars were not recorded, but they were part of the bi-monthly zoom presentations via the AgroforestryNW outreach and education efforts.  Upcoming agroforestry zoom meetings are listed here.

Education and outreach results:

SARE outreach-and-education-report

AWARENESS & KNOWLEDGE: Because of this course, has your awareness or knowledge of the following topics changed? - Sustainable Farming Practices

AWARENESS & KNOWLEDGE: Because of this course, has your awareness or knowledge of the following topics changed? - Basics of Livestock and Poultry

INFLUENCE ON FUTURE ACTIONS: As a result of taking this course, which of the following items have you developed or improved?

Greatly Increased  (7)

Greatly Increased (7)

Whole Farm Plan (25)

 Increased (12)

Increased (12)

Soil Management Plan (2)

Somewhat Increased (6)

Somewhat Increased (5)


No (1)

No (2)




16 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
10 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
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.