Establishing a Network of Agroforestry Research & Demonstration Farms

Progress report for LNC19-429

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $199,893.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Savanna Institute
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Kevin Wolz, PhD
Savanna Institute
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Project Information

Summary:

Agroforestry, the integration of trees with crops or livestock, is a transformative solution to the ecological and economic issues of agriculture. A major hurdle to agroforestry adoption in the Midwest is the inadequate demonstration on a scale comparable to typical row-crop farms. Such demonstration in Europe and Canada by universities and NGOs has greatly increased agroforestry adoption. From its inception, the Savanna Institute has worked with private, independent farms across the Midwest to demonstrate agroforestry. The effectiveness of this network has been limited by the fact that most farms are small, use inconsistent management, and often utilize only one of the many agroforestry practices.

To overcome these barriers and catalyze agroforestry adoption across the Midwest, the Institute is launching a network of Institute-operated Agroforestry Research & Demonstration (R&D) Farms. In partnership with public and private landowners, these farms will facilitate a broad range of decentralized education, demonstration, and research functions. The Institute already has funding for an initial group of R&D Farms in Wisconsin, which will be established in 2019.

This project, “Establishing an Illinois Network of Agroforestry Research & Demonstration Farms” will fund planning, establishment, and education at three R&D Farms in Illinois. At their core, each farm will host commercial-scale demonstration plantings of a suite of agroforestry practices. Comprehensive educational signage and on-farm educational workshops will provide multiple modes of engagement throughout the year. Direct oversight by the Institute will ensure robust, science-based management and improve long-term economic and ecological monitoring beyond what is possible with a network of independent farms.

These Agroforestry R&D Farms will serve as invaluable education hubs for farmers, landowners, investors, policy makers, and the public. Increased familiarity of the profitability and ecological benefits of agroforestry will lead to increased adoption of agroforestry by site visitors, trainees, and collaborators, who then become agroforestry advocates in their communities. Ultimately, widespread adoption of agroforestry in the North-Central Region will enhance farm profitability, ecological resilience, carbon storage, water quality, and rural job creation.

Project Objectives:

LEARNING OUTCOMES

  • Availability of R&D Farms as an educational asset for sustainable agriculture educators throughout Illinois.
  • Recognition of agroforestry's profitability and ecological benefits by farmers, landowners, agricultural professionals, investors, and policy-makers.
  • Application of agroforestry and perennial agriculture knowledge by beginning farmers

ACTION OUTCOMES

  • Conversion of engaged stakeholders to agroforestry advocates in their communities
  • Adoption of agroforestry by site visitors and trainees

SYSTEM CHANGE OUTCOMES

  • Widespread adoption of agroforestry practices, diffusing across the landscape from R&D Farms
  • Enhanced farm profitability, ecological resilience, carbon storage, water quality, and job creation
Introduction:

2020 was a very challenging year for the Savanna Institute Agroforestry Demonstration Farm Network. A delayed start to our work, ever shifting logistics and measures to keep our staff and collaborators safe, and an inability to educate farmers, landowners, and ag processionals in-person were significant roadblocks. But these situations also allowed us to dig deep intro systems management, crew and partner education, and on-the-ground research. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Kaitie Adams (Educator and Researcher)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Due to safety concerns and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, no public events were held, and no visitors were welcomed at the Demonstration Farms. Our ability to collaborate with other partners has also been restrained. While online educational events were seriously considered, it was determined by SI staff that remote education would not come close to replacing in-person field days, and lack of rural internet access could prevent many farmers from participating.

 

In 2021, we will host a limited series of on-farm events that focus on agroforestry basics, establishment and maintenance best practices, incorporation of native ground covers into farming systems, and sharing what was learned during the first year of this program. Because most systems have already been established, the SI Demonstration Farm Team will be able to focus on community engagement, educational signage, and ensuring the future success of these sites. We hope to match all metrics previously proposed, despite the pandemic-induced lag, and continue our work of illustrating how agroforestry can increase ecological health, diversify and stabilize income, actively fight climate change, and strengthen rural communities.

Project Activities

Practical Agroforestry for Working Farms
Windbreaks for Conservation and Profit
Agroforestry in Action
Plant Trees, Save the World
Bringing Agroforestry to Illinois
New demonstration farms in Illinois to showcase commercial-scale agroforestry
Allerton Park Demonstration Farm Virtual Tour
Allerton Park Demonstration Farm Establishment
Sun Dappled Demonstration Farm Establishment
Fields Restored Demonstration Farm Establishment

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Tours
4 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

1040 Farmers
135 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

In 2020,  IL Agroforestry R&D Farm Educator Kaitie Adams presented on the IL Demonstration Farm Program at 4 total online conferences and invited talks. These were not part of the original proposal, but became safe, viable platforms to present on the practices utilized, research being conducted, and lessons learned at the 3 Illinois Demonstration Farms in 2020. These presentations reached a total of 1175 farmers, students, and agricultural professionals through online platforms. 

Kaitie and 3 Demonstration Farm interns also presented an on-line farm tour of the Allerton Park Demonstration Farm. This on-line tour was sparsely attended, even with multi-platform promotion. 

There was one news media story, Bringing Agroforestry to Illinois, and one agricultural publication article,New demonstration farms in Illinois to showcase commercial-scale agroforestry,  on the Illinois Agroforestry Demonstration Farm program published in 2020. 

Through the establishment of the 3 Illinois Agroforestry Demonstration Farms (Allerton Park, Sun Dappled, and Fields Restored), we were able to more deeply educate our team of interns (4 total), Savanna Institute Staff (12 total), and our partner landowners, farmers, and collaborators (10 total) through field work, regular socially distant meetings, and collaborative problem solving. Working and educating the conventional farmers we worked with at Allerton and Fields Restored has created more space not only for collaboration, but for greater buy-in and championing of these systems. And while  intern education wasn't originally a core educational goal of this project, we intentionally created space and resources to educate intern mores once we saw that we weren't going to be able to engage with the public as much.

Due to the constraints of in-person education, we were able to research, design, and establish an innovative ground cover experiment this season at the Allerton Park Demonstration Farm, as well as a silvopasture experiment at Fields Restored. The Allerton Park experiment compares two different ground covers: (1) a standard “orchard mix” of perennial rye, fescue, and duch white clover, and (2) a native, short-growing native prairie mix from Pheasants Forever that is tailored to Illinois and the farm’s specific soil.  Furthermore, for each ground cover, the experiment also tests three different ground cover/weed management strategies in the tree rows: (1) banded herbicide application, (2) plastic weed mats, and (3) mowing. 

 

The Fields Restored silvopasture experiment seeks to understand the value of establishing “islands” (groupings) of trees into actively grazed pasture. These tree islands are common to pastures in Europe, but have not been employed in the United States. This experiment includes two island sizes and five combinations of native trees and shrubs. This experiment seeks to explore how this silvopasture design can increase biodiversity, support wildlife and pollinators, produce a salable product, and provide shade and other benefits for livestock. These islands will be monitored by interns who will collect data and monitor livestock interactions. 

 

There is almost no research on groundcover establishment and management in alley cropping systems or silvopasture islands; these projects address many of the questions we receive from landowners and farmers about best practices and options for tree cropping systems.

 

Having to pivot some of this project’s focus has allowed us to allocate more time and resources to ensuring robust management and monitoring systems to better educate farms and landowners. 

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
4 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation
Key areas taught:
  • Year-round groundcover establishment & care
  • Silvopasture
  • Riparian Buffers
  • Windbreaks
  • Alley Cropping
  • Value of Agroforestry Practices for Conversation & Profit
  • Tree Planting
  • Agroforestry Establishment Best Practices
  • Agroforestry Design
  • Financing for agroforestry
  • Tree Crop Selection
  • Nutrient Management
  • Pollinator Habitat
  • Integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Habitat Enhancement
  • Plastic Mulch
  • Precision Herbicide Application
  • Networking
  • Partnership Building

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Key practices changed:
  • Alley Cropping

  • Silvopasture

  • Riparian Buffer

  • Windbreak

9 Grants applied for that built upon this project
5 Grants received that built upon this project
10 New working collaborations
Success stories:

The farmer who rents the alleys for conventional row-crop production (this year’s rotation is corn) at the Allerton Park Demonstration Farm came into this project very skeptical. In our initial meetings, he had some trouble (1) understanding why we would want to plant trees into agricultural land, (2) seeing how his equipment would function efficiently within this system, and (3) trusting an organization he was unfamiliar with. But, like most farmers of any scale or practice, he quickly began to understand once we got in the field. The day we finished flagging out the borders of the tree paddocks using GPS, he began his first field preparations of the year. After the first full pass, he got out of the tractor and exclaimed “Hoo, girl. Those rows are perfectly straight!” with a huge smile on his face. After that, I knew we were going to have a good working relationship and would be able to work through any issues that arose; he saw Savanna Institute as an organization who could do the work well and put talk into practice, as well as alley cropping as a practice that fits well with his systems. 

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.