Advancing on-farm understanding and application of silvopasture technologies in Pennsylvania

Project Overview

ONE13-189
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,426.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep

Practices

  • Animal Production: housing, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, winter forage
  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, farm-to-institution, value added, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting, physical control
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Many landowners in Pennsylvania utilize their wooded areas for passive forest grazing, e.g. providing shade in summer and overwintering for shelter, which is detrimental to the forest and contributes little forage towards sustaining a herd. In contrast, silvopasturing of woodlands that are currently being mismanaged has potential to increase the forested land under management for wood production while increasing available pasture area. This project will focus on one of five categories of agroforestry practices, silvopasture systems. We will develop case studies on two demonstration sites highlighting technical considerations when establishing and implementing silvopasture in both an open pasture situation and a forest ecosystem. Silvopasturing is an opportunity to integrate wooded areas within the overall farm operation, resulting in greater incentive for good stewardship through more deliberate and efficient land use. Management is the key to the success of silvopastures, but producers currently lack the information and decision support tools needed to implement the practices in the most effective manner possible. Our project addresses knowledge gaps regarding management of forest and grazing lands together to achieve a level of farm diversification, therefore investing in the future of the farm. We aim to substantiate past research and deliver practical technical guidance, including lists of suitable tree and forage species as well as materials outlining important considerations during the process of establishing and maintaining silvopasture, ensuring greater success for those undertaking the practice. The project will observe and monitor two farms currently establishing silvopasture systems and develop guidelines based on their experiences.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Strategies to be employed through this project will address the lack of knowledge and technical guidance regarding silvopasture systems by:

    1. Utilizing the concepts of on-farm demonstration to connect practitioners, scientists, and technical advisors. This will be accomplished by establishing and maintaining two silvopasture demonstration sites on farms that are presently committed to silvopasture development, in both open pasture and wooded areas.
    2. Collecting various data that explores and substantiates technical information for silvopasture systems. This will be done through USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS), whose role will be to set up monitoring protocols and regularly collect samples as well as analyze results.
    3. Creating networks and “communities of practice” between practitioners and technical advisors. We intend to build upon the grazing adviser approach in Pennsylvania through GLCI members and project participants. The agencies involved, including ARS, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry and the USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will produce technical guidance documents to further support conservation field staff and producers in their efforts. We will develop a full suite of learning opportunities, ranging from tried and proven approaches (publications, field days, and workshops) to technological innovations (e.g., electronic or e-learning).

    In terms of sampling, the ARS will use on-farm data collection to evaluate soil physical properties and quality, as well as forage quality and yield in a pasture area that was transitioned to silvopasture by the addition of rows of honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos) and in an on-farm woodlot thinned to support forage suitable for silvopasturing. The on-farm data will be gathered at the Wyebrook Farm in Chester County, PA and the Dickinson College Farm in Cumberland County, PA throughout the grazing season (May-November) for two consecutive years.

    Soil cores will be taken on both farms at a depth of 8” once during the grazing season for soil chemical analysis (Ag Analytical Labs, University Park, PA). Biological activity will be recorded as a baseline indicator of soil health, through USDA protocols for soil respiration, specifically through visual observation of soil color and Woods End Solivita respiration test (Woods End Research, 1997). Bulk density soil samples will be taken using the core method (Uhland, 1950) in the spring and fall of the grazing season at 10 points in the silvopasture areas to determine soil compaction. Additional bulk density samples will be taken within a fenced enclosure around several of the locust trees. We will also compare conditions before and after introducing cattle into the plots at both the Wyebrook and Dickinson silvopasture sites.

    Forage suitability for silvopasture systems needs to be assessed from the perspective of total plant and animal production and species persistence rather than just shade tolerance. There are many potential cool and warm season forage species that can be used in silvopasture systems. Choices should be based on site adaptability, livestock needs, landowner objectives, and compatibility with overstory tree species. A variety of plant types, including shrubs, grass, legumes, and forbs can make up the forage and browse component (Chedzoy and Smallidge, 2011). We intend to analyze the performance of various silvopasture forage species used on the demonstration farms in order to develop appropriate technical recommendations.

    Forage yield and quality will be evaluated monthly by clippings taken from representative sites within the silvopasture areas. Forage samples will be dried for 48 hours in a forced air oven at 55°C, ground to pass through a 1-mm screen and analyzed for nutrient content, including dry matter, organic matter, protein, fiber, energy, and sugars by wet chemistry (Dairy One Forage Analysis Laboratory, Ithaca, NY). Botanical composition will be evaluated monthly by sorting 3 representative clipped forage samples and sorting the components to the species level. Each plant species will be bagged, dried at 55°C for 24 hours and weighed to quantify proportion of each species in the total sward.

    Tree species selection is an important consideration when establishing silvopastures. There are many tree species that are suited to silvopasture establishment, but utilizing hardwood species is not as well researched and understood as with conifer species (Fike et al, 2004). Desirable species characteristics include: marketable timber; high-quality wood; rapid growth; deep-rooted morphology; drought tolerance; soil enhancement (e.g. nitrogen fixation); production of additional products such as nuts or fodder; and provision of environmental conservation services. As part of the project, the DCNR Bureau of Forestry will review past literature on tree species appropriate for agroforestry products and develop a list of suggested desirable tree species to be incorporated into the silvopasture system on both demonstration farms, to include but not be limited to: Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollisima), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), Yellowwood (Cladradis kentukea), and Willow oak (Quercus phellos).

    If livestock are managed properly, any type of grazing animal can be incorporated into a silvopasture system. Trees provide evaporative cooling, reduce radiant heat loss at night, and reduce wind speed which can increase livestock performance. These buffered environmental conditions allow animals to spare energy for growth, particularly under hot conditions. Increased weight gain, milk yield, and conception rates have been reported for cattle or sheep grazing pastures with trees in warm environments (Chedzoy and Smallidge, 2011). In the winter, trees can cut the direct cold effect and reduce wind velocity. Well managed forage production provides improved nutrition for livestock growth and production. For the purpose of this project, we will maintain the existing livestock being utilized on both farms and collect data visually on animal performance and general health indicators.

    Our goal for this project is to reach two major audiences – farmer practitioners and conservation professionals. As evidenced throughout the application, there are specific knowledge gaps in the existing information on Silvopasture in the Northeast that we intend to address. We will tailor the guidance to Pennsylvania as much as possible, and each of the project partners will have a defined role in outreach efforts. The following methods for information sharing regarding the project results will be used:
    1. Technical guidance documents: Project partners (ARS, NRCS, DCNR) will develop fact sheets and technical notes for dissemination to conservation professionals and producer groups, as well as to provide as handouts to participants of field days and workshops. In addition, NRCS technical specialists will develop a “job sheet” to be utilized for working with landowners under USDA Farm Bill Programs. The NRCS Silvopasture Establishment Practice Standard Code (381) in Pennsylvania provides general guidance, but the resulting job sheet will provide a necessary tool used to implement the practice on-farm.
    2. Peer-reviewed journal articles: the results of the project will be summarized in an article written by ARS staff for journals such as Inside Agroforestry (USDA National Agroforestry Center) and Agroforestry Systems Journal.
    3. Field days/workshops: the project team will organize and conduct one field day per year on each of the demonstration farms, focused on bringing together practitioners (farmers) and conservation professionals. Typical field days conducted include a pasture walk to visually connect the participants to the methods being employed as well as open discussion regarding “lessons learned” through the experiences of the farmer hosting the event. In addition, at the end of the project, we will conduct a regional hands-on workshop on each of the demonstration farms for producers interested in learning how to incorporate the practices on their operations.
    4. Technical Tours: to further reach conservation professionals, we plan to incorporate a series of more formal technical tours on the two farms, which will be hosted at intervals throughout the project to point out the considerations and processes during the establishment of the silvopasture system. NRCS grazing specialists will lead the effort to schedule small groups to tour and learn about methods being used to work through the establishment process.
    5. Websites and web-based learning: In order to be thorough about reaching the largest target audience possible, partners will publish project results in the form of material for website posting. This includes presentations (powerpoint and short video), technical notes, webcasts and articles. Websites to be used include agency partner websites, as well as the USDA Center for Agroforestry (http://nac.unl.edu/), the NE Pasture Consortium (http://grazingguide.net/), and the National/State GLCI websites (www.glci.org and www.paglci.org).

    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.