The Virginia Experiment... "Establishing Silvopasture: A Mid-way Progress Assessment"

Our paper:  "Establishing Silvopasture: A Mid-way Progress Assessment"
Available here: www.arec.vaes.vt.edu/shenandoah-valley/research/field-day/documenta...

It's the first paper in the proceedings.

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Adam,

Do you and John have a sense for the difference in cost/acre between the two understory treatments? (pushing with the skidder blade, and "mulching")  You may have posted pictures on this in the past, but was the mulching done with a Fecon?  Based on what you learned from this experiment, which of the methods would you recommend in most cases for others?

Is the 3-4" of mulch compacted or still fluffy? Do you think it would be possible to establish orchardgrass on top of that mulch if it were trampled in (or bale grazed, perhaps)? It'd be great to test the fertility of the two understory treatments in a couple years (ie does increased soil organic matter in the mulched plot make up for the increased establishment cost?). Thanks for the detailed write-up!

It's not that thick in most places.  To reduce the thickness, the operator piled (and we burned) some of the material.  I'm not a grass guy but I can't imagine anything establishing ontop of mulch doing well.  Too much moisture variation I'd guess in the mulch layer.

We do plan to test the fertility and compare it with pre-treatment.

Thanks for reading our paper and for your interest!

What I've observed on our farm where we've left behind a significant mulch layer from mowing is that the grass eventually comes in (along with a lot of other green stuff - not all of it good), but the wood chips definitely seem to hold back the grass for at least a season or two.  We haven't really been able to test mob grazing the recently mowed spots to see if it would punch the chips into the soil better and accelerate the process, but I think it would help. 

Decay fungi working on breaking down the high-lignin chips probably also ties up a lot of the N in the soil, which probably also detrimentally affects grasses and forbs getting established.

Picture below of mowing with a Loftness head that we did in early October to remove some unhealthy Doug Fir (Rhabdocline needle cast) and Scots Pine (Scleroderris canker).  We'll see what happens with the grass by next summer.

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