Monday, October 17, 2011

Brambles and Sassafras Agroforestry

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant #FNC99-281 by Brian Schweiss, Macon, MO

Objective: To develop an agroforestry system with several blackberry and raspberry varieties to serve as a source of annual income, and to grow sassafras trees to reduce sunscald damage to fruit, and to serve as a source of supplementary income.

Results: I tilled several 5-by-200 foot rows for 50 plants each of three blackberry varieties, and another 50 plants each of three raspberry varieties. Each plot was mounded to improve drainage, and brambles were planted down the center of the rows.  Each row was mulched, trellised, pruned, and mowed to improve weed control and irrigation efficiency.  Approximately one-half acre was planted.

Brambles were well established.  I installed irrigation and applied minimal pesticides. Only the Illini Hardy blackberry produced consistently over the two years of the project. I decided production wasn’t worth the time and expense it was taking from me. The market in my small town wasn’t sufficient, and people weren’t  willing to pay the right price for the type of berry they were getting. I sold 23 quarts and made $69; the 50 plants I purchased cost $100, so that left me without a profit.

I made no profit on the sassafras. I learned sassafras trees do not transplant well, and they did not grow well.  The project was extended one year to gather data on berry harvests and allow for sassafras planting.

I manage and sell trees on my Foxtail Farm, which is 37 acres, about half of which is forested. I work with the green-certified nonprofit Tree Farm, which certifies that trees harvested come from properly managed land. I now am working to regenerate oak on my property. I view my forestry project as profitable, and as an investment. I do not make an annual profit from it, but every 10 years I have a timber sale, and profit from that. I select harvest certain trees, and leave the others for more growth, to be harvested later.

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