Agro-Forestry Project: Incorporating Grass-Hay Alley Cropping With Organic Nut Production

2007 Annual Report for FNC06-624

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $5,985.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Ray Hansen
Prairiewood Farms

Agro-Forestry Project: Incorporating Grass-Hay Alley Cropping With Organic Nut Production


Year 1 has been dedicated to the establishment of the production site. A 100’ buffer strip was seeded with native grasses and assorted forbs, the interior border of the buffer strip was seeded with a single row of hazelnuts. Irregular points and field site were seeded with 3,000 assorted native hardwoods and pine trees through a NRCS reforestation project leaving approximately eight acres for alley-cropping and Chinese chestnut production. The area was seeded to 100% timothy grass prior to tree planting. Stressful weather during the summer resulted in poor germination. As a result the site was reseeded to a three-way pasture grass mix late in the fall, with much better germination.

Tree planting began in May with 150 Chinese chestnuts planted in a 25’ x 25’ pattern. Each tree was provided a mulch mat, tree protector and drip irrigation. Frost damage to some seedlings prior to planting resulted in approximately 50 trees needing to being replanted. Seed stock was secured from three nurseries. The site was protected from deer with an innovative electric fencing system and no significant deer loss has yet occurred in what would be considered a high deer pressure area.

Significant findings from year 1:

Trees: By planting a variety of seedling stock it has become evident that planting 3rd year seedlings provides for significantly hardier plants that are much easier to manage. All future planting will be of this size when possible.

In addition to purchasing quality steed stock, it appears that you can plan on investing at least three times the cost of the tree in maintenance costs – including mulch, protectors, stakes, fencing and irrigation – this excludes labor.

Tree shelters for chestnuts: Four different types of tree shelters where utilized during the first year resulting in one style that clearly has an advantage over the others. As a result all future trees and all trees currently planted will be converted to a solid, rigid-wall, vented tube type protector with solid oak stakes. Open mesh, solid tube, blue translucent protectors all had significant failures or caused significant damage to the seedlings. Oak stakes must be used since bamboo stakes will not hold up when used in conjunction with drip irrigation.

Tree management:

Drip Irrigation –
DI is a must – the cost of drip irrigation is “money well spent” Having the ability to provide water directly to each tree and only to the trees was critical to getting them through a 6 week dry spell. The system was low maintenance, highly reliable and incredibly efficient.
Deer Protection-
There is no one solution but they can be controlled using a variety of method when coordinated with a game plan. The following is a list of approaches used in combination for successful deer management.
 Closely mowed ground cover.
No lush vegetation was left near the trees to attract deer to the area for browsing.
 Alternative food sources
Food plots with quality vegetation were planted near but not adjacent to the trees providing a favored alternative.
 Deer repellants
Any and every commercially available and home brew should be tried in combinations. Trees, protectors, mats, fence posts and the electric fence where all sprayed.
 Loose electric fence
The key to a “good” deer fence is to build a “bad” one. I constructed an eight foot four-strand electric fence. I alternated galvanized wire with yellow branded wire. All lines where left loose to swing in the wind and to provide slack in the line if a deer ran into it. So far no significant deer loss has been recorded.

There will be several priorities for the coming year including but not limited to:

 Additional tree plantings of up to 150 Chestnut trees will be added.

 All trees will be converted to vented solid tube type protectors.

 Research and implement tree maintenance programs, pruning, organic fertilizer etc.

 Continue recording keeping of varietial and production growth traits.

 The first cuttings of grass hay from the alley-cropping system will be harvested.

 Budgets will be established or revised for:
a) nursery start-up
b) production budget w/grass harvest
c) 5-10 year cashflow projections w/ alley cropping hay

 Increase project exposure through hosted field days with a goal of 100 visitors.

 Attend at least three related workshops or education events including the SARE 20th anniversary conference in Kansas City.

 Complete all deliverables for the grant including final reports by Nov 30th 2008.

No official field days have been held in 2007. However, a dozen (12) individual producers and service providers have made private visits to the project. Invitations for field days in 2008 have been extended to Tree Forever, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Farmers Union, and Leopold Center for Sustainable Ag, ISU Extension, local 4H and FFA and the local NRCS and state forester. Due to our central location in Iowa and close proximate to Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University and the University’s Convention Center I would anticipate that many of these groups will utilize the site as a tour stop during the up coming year(s).

The project will also have a business profile posted on the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center’s website in 2008.