Improving Silvopasture Systems in the South: Identification of Suitable Forage Crops and Enhancement of Environmental Quality in Upland Forests

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $135,487.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Furman University
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. John Quinn
Furman University


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, housing
  • Crop Production: agroforestry
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, indicators, soil stabilization, wildlife, carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil chemistry, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Growth in human population and more meat intensive diets are increasing the demands on farming and food systems. At the same time rapid urbanization threatens the existence and economic viability of farmland, particularly in the southeastern United States. Thus, data are needed that increase economic stability of farmers while enhancing environmental quality within the farm and in the larger landscape. Agroforestry systems, more specifically silvopasture systems, integrate working trees with animal production, providing multiple environmental and economic benefits to a farm and the broader ecosystem, but are not widely used in agriculture. One barrier to adoption and research in agroforestry systems is the time required to grow mature stands of trees. Data highlighting the success of systems can be used to inform the broader farming community about successful farming methods for the South.  Thus, the primary purpose of this project is to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of grazing efforts in agroforestry systems embedded in farmland by restoring forest patches invaded by exotic plants and developing sustainable grazing practices. We will do this by 1) identifying suitable animal forage mixtures, 2) acquiring baseline data on soil fertility to track responses to agroforestry methods, and 3) testing if the above restoration efforts improve wildlife habitat in upland forests in agroecosystems. Identification of shade-tolerant forage crops and improvement of soil quality can reduce the post-grazing recovery times within and between years. The reduced recovery time will increase the economic value of these forest patches to the producer. Removal of invasive species in these forests will improve nesting and foraging habitat for game and non-game wildlife. We will work closely with four farms in the Carolinas and Georgia. We will restore upland forest patches at each site, and then plant replicated mixtures of different forage crops in the restored forests. All plots will be grazed as part of the restoration efforts, improving the economic productivity of each farm.  We will evaluate, pre-grazing, performance of the forage species under shade by measuring plant biomass, C to N ratio, stand density, and percent cover. We will measure bird richness and abundance in restored and control plots. We will collect preliminary data on soil organic carbon on soil organic nitrogen as a measure of soil fertility for future pre-post comparisons.  Managed forage and grazing should reduce the recovery time required between grazing periods, increase producer resiliency to variations in temperature and precipitation, increase resilience to fluctuations in economic markets, improve habitat quality for local wildlife, and increase soil quality. Last, and perhaps most importantly, we will magnify the education benefits of the project by working closely as researchers and practitioners and by sharing results and lessons learned through multiple education outputs and formats. We will share lessons learned and results via field days, outreach publications, and video. Throughout the study we will evaluate the effectiveness of our research, engagement, and information dissemination components using a mixed-method assessment.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    In this project we will address the articulated need of cooperating farmers for applied data on forage production and forest restoration by using existing forest stands at four farms across three states in the southern Piedmont, to test the performance of different forage combinations and the resulting environmental change. These data will identify:

    1) What crop mixes best grow under the shaded conditions of restored upland agroforestry systems


    2) The response of wildlife communities to forest restoration and ground cover planting

    3) Preliminary data and research capacity to study how understory forage crops can be used to restore ecological function and services, in particular soil fertility and health as measured by soil organic carbon and nitrogen content and stratification

    4) Share results of the research through a field day, an extension publication, and an online video highlighting the lessons learned and management recommendations

    5) Measure change in knowledge, attitude, and behavior as function of participation in the research (i.e., the four farmers) and knowledge and attitude of all participants in field days and information sessions.

    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.