The 2nd Annual Northeast Silvopasture Conference inspires optimization

CEW-MR-2-Northeast silvopasture1by Troy Bishopp

LATHAM, NY — When Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources District Forester and Organic Farmer, Roy Brubaker presented the case for expanding silvopastures in the Northeast to a capacity crowd of farmers, foresters and agency professionals, he drew inspiration from Sir Alfred North Whitehead who said, “Nature doesn’t maximize, nature optimizes.”

This theme highlighted a powerhouse of practically-based, enthusiastic speakers who covered all phases of silvopasture planning and implementation strategies at the farm level. By definition, this practice is the concurrent and intentional production of forages, livestock and trees on the same area of land in a sustainable system. Sounds simple enough, right? Mr. Brubaker cautioned attendees to learn as much as they can and do extensive goal-setting and planning because decisions and actions may have ramifications “25 to 50 years” down the road.

It was this long term vision and vast opportunity for the region that highlighted Roy’s diversity laden account of what works in nature. His three main topics included: Forest ecosystems as optimum human habitat; the case for understanding temperate (Northeast U.S.) forest ecosystems as silvopastures and the need for silvopastoral landscape practitioners in the North East. He presented a fascinating look at how the integration of trees, grass and livestock improves the carrying capacity and diversity of the whole ecosystem.

NYS CCE Extension Forester Dr. Pete Smallidge covered in detail, pasturing into the trees by what he called, “light management”. His approach to creating quality silvopastures focused on site selection, suited tree species, light quality, High versus low shade and effective thinning techniques. He talked about starting slow at the appropriate scale with the advice of a professional forester and a management plan as a way to avoid a “train wreck”. He added, “Chew what you bite off”, in balancing pasture establishment with pasture need/utilization.

The ever passionate, Brett Chedzoy, Schuyler County’s own Natural Resources and Agriculture Extension Educator and family farmer spoke about his experience overseas in Argentinian savannas and at his Angus Glen Farm with the specific benefits of adding trees to pastures. His keys to why he likes planned grazing around these trees included: Soil health, heat and cold stress amelioration, diversity of long range income, wildlife habitat, an emergency tree forage base and diversified diet for improved livestock performance. He explained the criteria for choosing the right trees; site preparation and care through the establishment phase; protecting young trees from hungry critters, the economics of different planting strategies and compared artificial versus natural regeneration.

The “Grass Whisperer”, Troy Bishopp, from The Madison County SWCD/Upper Susquehanna Coalition presented a broad brush of ideas to why managing livestock in silvopastures is critical to the success of achieving your goals. He introduced some practical advice in regards to fencing (plus a real hot fence charger) and watering systems as well as a pictorial on good and bad animal impacts to the forest. He also addressed managed grazing in riparian areas to control weeds around growing trees while limiting animals to stream access using portable fencing.

Assistant Professor at Paul Smith’s College and silvopasture practitioner, Joe Orefice, shared his knowledge in establishing forage within newly cleared land. He discussed establishment methods, soil amendments, choosing forage species and grazing management tips while keeping ahead of undesirable vegetation. He also shared some of his results from a NESARE project focused on forage establishment and management strategies in Northeast silvopastures.

The afternoon was dedicated to going from theory to the reality in creating workable silvopastures on the land. The brave team of holistic grazier, Ross Hackerson and his extremely patient consulting forester, Jeff Jourdain from Pittsfield, MA, chronicled their 5 year experience and costs in clearing forestland to make productive pastures for multi-species livestock. The duo brought a breadth of practical opportunities and challenges and proved partnerships do work well.

Dan Carr from the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture’s Livestock Team described the many facets of animal production that complement each other on their pastures and wooded reaches. He took attendees on a fascinating look into renovation practices using pigs and sheep to increase the forage base on the forest floor. The taste profile in the meat animals foraging within the silvopastures paired well with renowned Chef Dan Barber’s menu at the adjacent Blue Hill Restaurant.

The day ended with a Q and A panel of all the presenters where participants asked specific questions and voiced opinions on topics ranging from Ag exemption concerns to quality criteria of seedling trees.

All the presentations and factsheets on Northeast Silvopastures can be found at www.forestconnect.info
The conference was made possible with generous support from the NY NRCS Grazing lands Conservation Initiative (now known as the NY Grazing Coalition), the Central NY RC&D Council in partnership funding with the NESARE PDP Holistic Planned Grazing Training project and the Albany County Cornell Cooperative Extension Team.

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