Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Forest Farming

Off in the backwoods near Laurie, there's a 560 acre expanse of land where the University of Missouri's Center for Agroforestry is running a research farm.

The term may be new to some, but for Senior Outreach Specialist Gene Garrett, it's the future of Missouri farming.

"You've got a lot of timber. The question is, what do you do with it?" he asks.

The research farm, owned and volunteered by Doug Allen, aims to help answer that question. On the farm, the Agroforestry Center is running many experiments to find the best way Missouri farmers can cultivate their land for maximum profitability, health and conservation.

"The best thing about this farm is the location," says Garrett. "It's great for drawing in the Ozark Region locals. We can show them how to take something they already have, and make it healthy, vigorous and profitable."

With a solid idea on how things should be done, the University has begun to implement many ideas which have the capacity to revolutionize the Missouri Ozarks agriculture industry. Among these ideas, Garrett says, are very practical uses for local landowners.

Most landowners in the region have land that is heavily forested, and practically useless for any type of conventional farming. That's where agroforestry comes into play. The idea behind agroforestry is to help landowners realize the full potential of the natural resources in Missouri.

For example, Garrett explains the concept of Timber Stand Improvement, or TSI for short. This is a method of thinning out wooded areas, and in the same move, increasing the health of the land by inviting more wildlife and growth potential. Then in the future, the trees will be healthy and strong enough for use as lumber.

"There are resources to help with this," Garrett says. "Just contact your regional forester and ask about Timber Stand Improvement."

Afterwards, you can farm those wooded areas with crops that enjoy the shaded understory of a lightly forested area. The research farm is running experiments on that as well in an effort to discover the absolute best options there are. The center holds annual displays on how and what to do in order to get started.

But the research focus isn't exclusively on wooded areas. The farm also takes notice of the small pockets of open land that are maybe five or so acres on many Missouri properties. On these, Garrett says, you have many options.

He has placed an orchard on one such pocket within the farm. In it, he grows three rows each of walnut, chestnut and pecan trees. But this orchard has a twist.

"I believe in taking the landowner and showing them what it's going to look like," Garrett says.
To this end, his orchard has the five best varieties of each nut tree growing in his orchard. Local farmers and landowners can come in and see what trees will best suit their property. From there, Garrett can help them decide how to proceed.

But Garrett isn't only focusing on fruiting trees. He has a field dedicated to growing pine trees as well.

The pine trees are a hybrid - bred specifically to grow long needles and thrive in Missouri weather. The needles of these trees are harvested for mulch, which Garrett states is a far better option than wood chips. He also explains that pine straw is competitive with corn and soy crops, with a budding market and comparable prices.

And there are even more benefits to growing pine trees.

Garrett has designed the pine grove on the research farm to allow for alley cropping. Alley cropping is a method of cultivating other crops in the open spaces between the tree lines while the pine trees are growing. Additionally, there are smaller alleys between tree lines, where Garrett is setting up wildlife habitats. This specific grove was set up with quail in mind, and Garrett says he expects to see a population boom in the coming years as the farm is developed.

All of these methods were designed specifically to help Missouri landowners and farmers. With a lot of research, a dash of common sense and some experimenting, the farm continues to grow as an example of what the Agroforestry Center considers an ideal land plot in the Ozarks. But there is always more to do, and the farm plans to be there for a long time to come.
(by Colby Powell, Lake News Online)

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