Climate Resilient Pastures: Establishing long-lived, multipurpose fodder, fruit and nut trees in an Upper Midwest silvopasture system

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2024: $14,887.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2026
Grant Recipient: North Fork Farms MN
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Emily Buehler O'Leary
North Fork Farms MN


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal summary:

Pasture-based livestock producers must adapt their forage
strategies to overcome the increasing frequency, length and
severity of droughts caused by climate change. As of November 28,
36% of the contiguous US was experiencing moderate to exceptional
. Minnesota farmers traditionally count on pasture
from May 1st through mid-October.  However,
according to
our state’s Crop Progress Report put out by NASS,
both 2021 and 2023 less than 20% of pasture and rangeland across
the state was rated “Good” or better from August 1-October
25.  In 2023, approximately 45% of pasture was already rated
poor or very poor by the start of August, representing a
60-85-day loss in pasture forage.  By September 1st 2023,
nearly 60% of Minnesotan pastures were rated poor to very poor.

Current models predict continued
drying across the country throughout the century
.  We
need to identify, research, and implement long-term, sustainable
solutions focused on forages that require less water, maintain
the necessary nutrition for livestock, and that can be
scaled.  In-pasture leaf fodder systems allow farmers to
source their own high-quality emergency forage while reaping the
benefits of a silvopasture system.  This practice allows us
adapt to our current climate, not our past climate.

Project objectives from proposal:


White mulberry
leaf fodder (20%+ crude protein with an excellent
mineral profile and high palatability),
cultivated for use for silk worms for millennia,
is now being used in many hot-weather climates in
coppicing fields for livestock fodder.  Red
mulberry, which is native to southeastern
Minnesota and longer-lived, has the potential to
be a source of excellent leaf fodder in a drop
and feed-in-place biennial or triennial
pollarding system that also allows for taking a
berry crop for human or livestock consumption in
the non-pollarding years.  Because resilient
ecologies rely on the synergies between diverse
species, and because, if tested, additional tree
crop species may also prove well-suited for
production of leaf fodder or high-quality fruit
and nut masts, or both, we will also include a
variety of cold-hardy fruit and nut species in
our planting. This kind of system allows us to
embrace the silvopasture concept of raising
trees, forage and livestock on the same land for
the improved health of all three, while also
stockpiling livestock feed via tree fodder for
years of drought when pasture production is


The Trial:

Trial Visual

Informed by the
methods and results of previous projects, we will
complete a multi-purpose, long-lived and
multi-specie tree planting in our 40-acre cattle
and hog pasture with the following operational
  • plant 600
    trees, primarily red mulberry seedlings (70%)
    but interspersed with groupings of other fruit
    and nut trees (30%), including: apple, pear,
    serviceberry, persimmon, northern pecan,
    chestnut and shagbark hickory
  • plant trees
    8-10ft apart with T-posts and wire cages to
    allow for natural growth but to protect from
    livestock and wildlife (can be funded by EQIP
    program through NRCS)
  • plant trees in
    lines to give additional browse-height
    protection from cattle and deer via a poly-wire
    protection lane at browse height that does not
    allow for animal pass-through, but does allow
    for grazing up to the tree line (SARE funding
    needed for this added protection)
  • mulch, weed
    and water the tree lines occasionally for the
    first two establishment years (SARE funding
    needed for this additional establishment
  • record survival rates and growth
    rates for each species at the end of Year 1 and
    end of Year 2
  • lab-test leaf fodder samples for nutritional
    feed value for each species at the end of Year 2
  • pollard one-quarter of all red mulberry
    seedlings in August of Year 2 to test tolerance
    of mid-season leaf fodder harvest;
  • one quarter to
    one half of all red mulberries will be
    pollarded each subsequent year, putting the
    pollards on an staggered biennial or triennial
    pollard cycle depending on the tree's tolerance
    (we may experiment with annual pollarding as


  • remove weeding
    and watering support for the trees in the third
    year, in order to identify the most
    drought-hardy trees able to compete and thrive
    in a low-input environment
  • eventually,
    other trees with poor-quality fruit and nuts
    will be pollarded for fodder if nutritive feed
    values warrant harvest


We believe
this type of planting will be easy to
replicate by beginning and experienced
farmers alike, on large and small parcels and
with minimal equipment and


1. Identify fodder, fruit and nut tree species that are easy to
establish and maintain in a low-input Upper-Midwest silvopasture
2. Identify the nutritive value of fodder from a number of fruit
and nut trees that could grow in an Upper-Midwest silvopasture
system, thereby serving the multiple purposes of providing fodder
for livestock, as well as fruit and nut harvests for human and
livestock consumption.
3.  Share findings with interested sustainable farming
community organization as well as online and through social media
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.