Silvopasture Pilot Project in Lancaster County, PA

Progress report for LNE20-405R

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2020: $88,563.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2023
Grant Recipients: Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Crow & Berry Land Management
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Molly Cheatum
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

Problem, Novel Approach and Justification 

CBF is looking afresh at an ancient practice that has seemingly dropped from common useSilvopasture offers an opportunity to improve animal comfort and performance, protect environmental resources, create more appealing landscapes, and diversify farm resources and income. Many landowners can perceive these benefits, however, managing these landscapes simultaneously for healthy trees, forage, and livestock is a challenge. In addition to the added complexity is the lack of information on how to design with trees to compliment the farm, and how to effectively get trees established in working pastures.  

Information on designing silvopasture for farmers needswithin their budget and within the context of their landscape is lacking. To achieve the real economic and ecological benefits that come from silvopasture, it is imperative to develop a much more cost-effective means of tree establishment. 

Hypothesis or Question and Research Plan 

Question: How to get productive trees established in active pastures given predation and livestock damage, with limited financial resources and different types of forage and soils? 

Eight tree-planting methods will be tested on 5 farms. Each farm will plant 30 bareroot trees/acre on 4 acres –  total of 600 trees 20 acres. A baseline will be conducted on each farm, with 4 randomly collected samples for soil measuring micronutrients, infiltration, carbon, organic matter, and forage identification plots. One test was done in August 2020 and we will do one in April 2023. Survival rates, tree height and caliper, damage to trees will be recorded over 3 years in the Spring of each year while conducting maintenance.  

Additionally, costs of each method will be tracked: 1) Site preparation (equipment, labor, and cost of herbicide) 2) Seedling cost 3) Labor associated with planting; and 4) Fencing, metal and plastic shelters, and mulch materials. All these factors will be considered to determine the relative cost-effectiveness of each method and allow farmers to weigh which methods will best fit their context. 

Outreach Plan 

We will work with the farmers and share their motivations, experiences, challenges and successes over the three years through video. We will compile a series of how-to educational videos that will provide support and help guide decisions for other farmers interested in this practice. We will also conduct annual pasture walks, three over the grant period, to encourage farmer-to-farmer education and connections.  

Project Objective 

This project will test 8 different establishment techniques of bareroot trees in pasture on 5 farms over 3 years, tracking cost and survival rates, establishing a baseline for soilforage quality and types, and comparing results. This information will inform producers on how best to begin integrating silvopasture into their farm systems.

Project Objective:

Silvopasture is a unique but underused integration of trees within a farm system. Most farmers recognize the benefits of trees for livestock but are not aware of how to establish cost-effectivelyThis project will test 8 establishment techniques of trees in pasture on 5 farms over 3 years, tracking cost, survival rates, establishing a baseline for soilforage quality and typesand comparing results. This will inform producers on how best to begin integrating silvopasture. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Austin Unruh (Educator and Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:

This project consists of tree plantings at 5 farms with 8 different treatments and designs associated with the type of farm operation.  Since March 2020, we planted 120 trees at each farm. They consist of hybrid poplar, honey locust, redbud, tulip poplar, and fruit (apple, peach, pear). Average height and average diameter were measured for each species, forage quality and types, along with soil tests were taken at each farm. See the description of each farm below.

Livengood Farm:

Livengood Farm manages a direct-to-consumer farming operation that supports 60-head of grass-fed Black Angus cow/calf along with open range turkeys. The 11-acre pasture selected for this research slopes gently from a hill to a lower riparian area. Cattle are transported to and from this pasture four times a year to prevent overgrazing. Turkeys are added in mid-September through mid-November and sometimes occupy the pasture with the cattle. In addition when conditions permit hay is cut from the pasture.

The pasture is well established with grasses and broadleaf plants. Orchardgrass, bromegrass, tall fescue, red clover, and white clover, dominate the ground cover. Also present are horse nettle, jimson weed, bindweed, and ground ivy. Four soil tests (3 Samples and 1 Control) were taken on August 10, 2020 and submitted to the Cornell Soil Health Lab for analysis.

The research trees were planted on June 1, 2020 with 8 different types of treatments:

Without Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 redbud

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

 

 

With Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 redbud

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

Livengood research layout: See attached.


Fiddle Creek Dairy:

Fiddle Creek Dairy runs a small herd of 20 Jersey cows and Jersey cross cattle and sell their products locally. The 55-acre farm is rotationally grazed and managed for forage production. Trees dominate the banks of a stream that flows through the farm and a center cattle walkway permits cows to move from one pasture to another in the multiple pastures connected to the loafing barn. The cow/calves are grazed daily between milking and evenings, cows are fenced out of the stream corridor and instead of watering cows in the stream, each pasture has a water trough filled by water piped from the stream.

The pastures are recently seeded with a diverse mix of orchardgrass, bromegrass, red and white clover, rye grass, and tall fescue. The clover makes up 80% of the visible stand as observed in midsummer with plenty of butterflies enjoying the blossoms. Four soil tests (3 Samples and 1 Control) were taken on August 10, 2020 and submitted to the Cornell Soil Health Lab for analysis.

The research trees were planted on April 6, 2020 within a much larger silvopasture planting.

Without Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 honey locust

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

 

 

With Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 honey locust

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

Fiddle Creek Dairy research layout: See attached.

Rising Locust Farm:

Rising Locust Farm is a 20 acre, direct to consumer marketing farm with 12 head of Highland cow/calf, 8 hair sheep, and 30 layers rotating through the pasture 5-6 times per year depending on weather and available forage. The perimeter fence is multiple strand high tensile electric and the grazing sections are separated by temporary posts with a single strand of electric. A seasonal stream is protected in the middle of the pasture with an improved livestock stream crossing.

The pasture has an equal mix of orchardgrass, brome, and fescue accompanied by red and white clover.  Four soil tests (3 Samples and 1 Control) were taken on August 10, 2020 and submitted to the Cornell Soil Health Lab for analysis.

The research trees were planted in already established (though young) silvopasture plantings on June 2, 2020.

Without Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 honey locust

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

 

 

With Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 honey locust

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

Rising Locust research layout: See attached.

Country Sunrise Creamery:

Country Sunrise Creamery is a 120-acre direct-to-consumer raw milk dairy farm with an 80 head of Holstein and crossbred cow/calf operation. Cattle are rotationally grazed through a 20-acre pasture, approximately .5 acre a day with a 30-day rotation. Most of the farm is managed for feed with a goal of feeding his 80 animals without outsourcing hay.

The land slopes at a 5-8% incline to a stream and fence. The pasture contains a diverse mixture of cover crops with about 20 different species. Four soil tests (3 Samples and 1 Control) were taken on August 10, 2020 and submitted to the Cornell Soil Health Lab for analysis. At each soil sample plot the following was recorded.

Sample 1 – 100% cover

Orchard grass – 50%

Red clover – 10%

Millet – 8%

Sorghum – 8%

Buckwheat – 8%

Bean – 8%

White clover – 8%

 

Sample 2 – 100% cover

Buckwheat – 5%

Red clover – 15%

Orchard grass – 30%

White clover – 10%

Sunflower – 10%

Foxtail – 5%

Beans – 5%

Kale/Collard/Turnip – 5%

Sorghum/millet – 5%

Plantain – 5%

Mustard – 5%

Sample 3 – 100% cover

Buckwheat – 25%

Orchard grass – 25%

Beans – 10%

Red clover – 10%

Dandelion – 10%

Millet/Sorghum – 10%

Plantain – 10%

Control – 100% cover

Foxtail – 15%

Millet/sorghum – 15%

Orchard grass – 20%

White clover – 10%

Mustard – 10%

Kale/Turnip – 10%

Beans – 10%

Buckwheat – 10%

The research trees were planted within a 4-acre orchard of apples, peach, pear, apricot, persimmon, and walnut on April 1, 2020.

Without Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 apple, peach, pear

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 apple, peach, pear

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 apple, peach, pear

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

 

 

With Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 apple, peach, pear

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 apple, peach, pear

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 apple, peach, pear

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

Country Sunrise Creamery research layout: See attached.

Blue Mountain View Farm:

Blue Mountain View Farm is a dairy farm with a 100 head of Jersey, Holstein, Swedish cattle mixed between heifers and dry cows. It is an organic certified dairy operation and part of a cooperative. Cattle are rotationally grazed, but only around 30% of feed comes from pasture. The farm is double cropped with corn, rye, and alfalfa. Soils are mostly Berkshire and the test area has a 15% slope towards a riparian buffered stream.

Four soil tests (3 Samples and 1 Control) were taken on August 10, 2020 and submitted to the Cornell Soil Health Lab for analysis. At each soil sample plot the following was recorded.

Sample 1 – 90% cover

Orchard grass – 40%

White/red clover – 15%

Alfalfa – 15%

Plantain – 30%

Sample 2 – 50% cover

Orchard grass – 40%

Red/white clover – 30%

Queen Ann’s lace – 10%

Chicory – 10%

Alfalfa – 10%

 

Sample 3 – 95% cover

Plantain – 5%

Red/white clover – 30%

Orchard grass – 40%

Thistle – 5%

Chicory – 10%

Queen Ann’s lace – 5%

Alfalfa – 5%

Control – 70% cover

Orchard grass – 60%

Red/white clover – 25%

Burdock – 10%

Rye – 5%

The research trees were planted on June 3, 2020 with 8 different types of treatments:

Without Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 tulip poplar

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

 

 

With Wood Chip Mulch

 

Plastic Shelter, electric fence on both sides

15 tulip poplar

Plastic Shelter, barbed wire around the shelter

15 honey locust

Metal Shelter, plus 2ft plastic shelter inside

15 honey locust

No shelter with electric fence on both sides

15 hybrid poplar

Blue Mountain View research layout: See attached.

Research results and discussion:

It is amazing how strong and resilient trees can be if given good care and conditions. Despite the myriad challenges of the spring, including a much-delayed planting complicated by Covid-19, followed by several very dry spells during the hot summer months, the research plantings have overall done remarkably well.

The greatest success by far has been the honey locust. If it had not been for a few instances where voles chewed off the base of trees, there would likely be a 100% success rate, coupled with strong growth. While official measurements have yet to be taken, many honey locust were sticking out of their 6’ shelters by the tail end of the growing season. This is the case even though honey locust on three farms (Blue Mountain View, Rising Locust and Livengood) were all planted in early June, well beyond the recommended timeframe for bare root stock. Observation in the field leads us to believe mulch will prove to greater growth, but we will wait to see what data says before drawing strong conclusions. 

One disappointment across the various research plots was the poor performance of poplar whips. A very low survival rate was noticed on our walks, for both the mulched and non-mulched trials. Issue could be with the stock we received. Stock from the same nursery was used in a separate planting at Fiddle Creek Dairy, and very high mortality (>80%) was noted. Another issue may have been that the stock was required to be kept, bare root, from when it was received in March, until the plantings could happen, as late as June. While kept in good conditions, stored in a cool, dark barn with adequate moisture, that is much longer than bare root trees should be kept.

  Hybrid Poplar. Represented at each site. Honey Locust. Rpresented at each site. Redbud. Livengood Farm only Tulip Poplar. Matt Bomgardner’s farm only Fruit (apple, peach, pear). Nelson Martin’s farm only
Average Height at Planting (cm) 129.5 43 47 28 116
Average Diameter at Planting (mm) 8.68 4.8 3.75 5.05 17.7
Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

2 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Created a Draft video on the introduction to silvopasture.

Participation Summary

Outreach description:

CBF scheduled a Pasture Walk on November 12, 2020 at Rising Locust Farm. Due to COVID19 restrictions the event was capped at 30, 20 people responded that they would attend, but due to the increase in COVID19 cases the team decided to cancel the event. To achieve the goals of 3 Pasture Walks, CBF plans to hold a Pasture Walk in 2021, 2022, and 2023 (this year we did not have one planned). 

Silvopasture invitation

Learning Outcomes

Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Non-applicable. Outreach event was cancelled due to COVID19. 

Project Outcomes

Success stories:

Non-applicable. The grant is still in the earliest stages and has not produced measurable outcomes. 

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.