Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Passionate about Silvopasture

Here’s an article that will appear soon in Country Folks and Lancaster Farming.

Passionate about Silvopasture
By Troy Bishopp
Watkins Glen, N.Y--- When I think of visiting Seneca Lake on a beautiful, warm fall day; my mind fancies sipping on a good semi-dry Riesling, taking a stroll through the waterfalls of the Watkins Glen State Park and sneaking a peek at the famous race track where my boyhood dreams always took the checkered flag. I can now add another attraction to that list-----The Northeast Silvopasture Conference. From the wide variety of license plates, I would surmise that the over 100 agroforestry enthusiasts attending their inaugural event of “Bringing the woods into the pasture or bringing the pasture into the woods” have found a new destination also. This pastoral brainchild of an idea for adding value to farms and woodlot owners have been on the minds of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s organizing trio of Brett Chedzoy, Jim Ochterski and Nancy Glazier for some time.

Ontario County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Issues Leader, Jim Ochterski summed up the mission that brought together farmers, foresters, students, conservation professionals, educators and community development advocates: “We are seeking to catalyze the development of Silvopasture in the northeast by looking at the science, considerations in planning, research and practical implementation on the land. When it comes to putting livestock in the woods were learning to go from destructive to productive.”

Schuyler County’s own grass-farmer/forester and CCE educator, Brett Chedzoy, inspired the group to consider “combining woodland and pasture management together utilizing animals and timber to add value to an existing land base”. This long term agroforestry practice was aptly covered throughout the two day event by a cadre of Silvopasture experts ranging from scientists, researchers, foresters, grazing specialists, economists and farmers.

The agenda started with a look at the opportunities; emergence of woody biomass markets to feasibly harvest low-grade timber, creation of diversified income sources, cost-effective vegetation control and increased demand for local food and timber production and niche livestock products. To harvest any financial or environmental reward, it was emphasized to have a comprehensive forest and farm plan rooted in a long term thought process.

John Hopkins from Forks Farm in Bloomsburg, PA and Dr. tatiana Stanton from Cornell’s “Goats in the woods” study showed the group how animals have enhanced their woodlands and scrub pastures using a variety of timed disturbances like rotating pigs and goats with electric fencing through the understory to control invasive plants like multi-flora rose and buckthorn. These controlled eco-brush trimmers open up the canopy for further enhancements like planting different grass and tree species. Creating this savannah-like landscape has its benefits. According to John “the Silvoculturist” Hopkins, their woodlot pork tastes better than factory farmed pork because the pigs root and eat a nutrient-rich diet from the forest floor in addition to eating local grains. Because of this, their local customers want more and he figured the "pigerators" were adding 4000 dollars/acre after expenses while helping him reclaim underutilized land.

Michael Jacobson from Penn State Cooperative Extension explained the opportunities and challenges to the adoption of silvopasturing in the Northeast and the need for more on the ground knowledge. This segued nicely into a dynamic presentation on the development, design, implementation and impact of tree-forage-livestock systems by the team of Dusty Walker, Gene Garrett and Larry Godsey from the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry (www.centerforagroforestry.org). They chronicled the five tenets of agroforestry; forest farming, alley cropping, riparian buffers, windbreaks and silvopasture into an over-arching goal of incorporating trees with other plant/livestock species that are economically and environmentally

When attendees bombarded the panel with questions about
how to apply these practices on their own land, the response of “it depends”
resonated many times. They talked
extensively about the benefits of natural shade since animals prefer it; tree
species, spacing and thinning to allow adequate sunlight to hit the ground and
the economics of establishing a system and the financial rewards to the landowner.

As an after dinner treat, Agri-dynamics founder, Jerry
Brunetti, gave his fascinating interpretation into Silvopasture as the “pantry and pharmacy for man and beast”. Based on his research, farm work and books like the 1928 classic Tree Crops by J Russell Smith and Wild Health by Cindy Engel, he has concluded that hedgerows with their diverse plant species and tree crops integrated into pastures have high quality cost effective medicinal qualities for all.

In the segment, “A vision to expand Silvopasturing in the Northeast”, New York’s NRCS Grazing Specialist, Dave Roberts and Eastern Region National NRCS Forester, Tom Ward teamed up with Nancy Glazier, Small Farms Educator from the Northwest NY CCE and Cornell’s NYS Extension Forester, Dr. Peter Smallidge to explain the possibilities. They discussed what every grazier needs to know about forestry and what every woodland manager needs to know about grazing in addition to exploring suitable land evaluations and learning about current resources and technical assistance for burgeoning Silvopastoralists. It was reiterated that Silvopasture is not grazing livestock in unmanaged woodlots or pastures.

The large group then traveled to Brett and Maria Jose’ Chedzoy’s Angus Glen Farms, LLC bordering the Watkins Glen State Park to see first-hand, 20 years of Silvopasture on the ground and overhead. Brett brought a wealth of practical knowledge on tree species, placement, thinning strategies using a variety of tools, understanding canopy percentages and integrating cattle and goats into the woodlots or woods into pastures on their 250 acres of owned and leased land. He humorously said it will take decades to fully implement the dynamic “vision”.

These grazing entrepreneurs used their locust groves to supply all the fence posts for the farm, have adopted tall and winter grazing strategies throughout the farm and manage timber sales in a holistic approach to long term sustainability.

Accolades overflowed for the two day event. Susan Truax, South Central Grazing Specialist from Pennsylvania NRCS commented, “I learned about more tools and environmental/financial considerations to help landowners manage and improve their forests and forages.” Mari Omland of Green Mountain Girls Farm in Vermont said, “I now see the importance of shade and the symbiotic relationship of trees and pastures.

I like the conversations around sustainable organic Silvopasture
practices. It was definitely worth the six hour drive.” Grazing Advocate for the Seneca Trail RC&D Council, Helen Terry, liked “feathering the edges of the pasture into the woods and seeing all the diverse economic opportunities.

If the exceptional attendance and passion for Northeastern
Silvopasture systems were any indication, it seems next year’s conference may go from “silvo” to gold…

The conference was made possible by the USDA National
Agroforestry Center, Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Forest Service, Penn State University Cooperative Extension, Cornell University
Cooperative Extension, Finger Lakes Sustainable Farming Center, The Cornell Small Farms Program, NYS Grazing Lands Conservation
Initiative and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition.

For more information contact Brett Chedzoy, Schuyler
County CCE at (607) 535-7161 or go to www.forestconnect.info