At the suggestion of a speaker at the Watkins Glen conference (Nov. 2011), I attended my state's NRCS State Technical Committee meeting on May 23, 2012, at the Doyle Conservation Center in Leominster, Mass., and pubically advocated for adoption of a silvopasture standard in Massachusetts. Since then, I've met with the NRCS field office and have a site visit scheduled for Thursday morning, June 21.
Silvopasture seems to get a warm reception, but is a tough sell. One comment I heard (from a person who will remain anonymous) took me by surprise. The gist of the comment was that silvopasture is for "the South" where soils are not as fertile for growing trees thus animals can help fertilze that soil, but we don't have the same need in this part of the country.
Any thoughts or guidance?
This type of comment is based largely on the lack of understanding of what silvopasture is. The NRCS is (should be ) well informed with the theory and application of managed intensive grazing. Silvopasture is absolutely the same thing. The dynamics are just different. Just as each pasture differs in soil fertility, type, hydrology, etc., and forage species present, trees are just another component int the mix to manage. I try to explain the benefits the trees can have for the animals (modifying the environment by decreasing stress), forest management (in reality, very few trees in a forest hold most of the economic value), economic (especially here in the Northeast, our land is a tax base that needs to be earning a return… silvopasture can realize short and long term return and forces us to manage that wooded parcel which is too often not or mismanaged), and ecological (sod cover and trees can be managed to control runoff, phytoremediation, windbreaks, etc. Also, the open canopy provides habitat preferred by some of our native birds as well as a host of other advantages the microclimate of the tree/pasture relationship can provide <temperature moderations positive effect on midsummer pasture quality for example>). Unfortunately, few at the NRCS have had much forestry training and the "fence the livestock out of the woods so they will eat grass and not just hang out" mentality does make this a hard sell.
We will be offering two silvopasture day courses in Berlin, NY (NY/MA border) on Friday, 8/24 and again in NH on Saturday 8/25 near Keene. Details will be posted soon under the Events page. Any MA NRCS folks who think that silvopasturing is just for the south should try to attend one of those events - I'm certain they wll leave with a different opinion.
Thanks to forester Jeff Jourdain for posting a link to the new work (published Sep. 25, 2013) on sustainable livestock production from the University of Cambridge (England) led by Professor Donald Broom. As a resident of Massachusetts, I hope our NRCS Office is taking note because it would be awesome to work with them on developing silvopasture applications in Massachusetts. If you missed Jeff's post, here is the link:
I am a contractor working out of western MA NRCS field offices. I am a Certified Conservation Planner with an M.S. in Forest Resources Mgt. Ihave attended a few of the Silvopasture meetings/conferences in recent years and am trying to learn more and advocate for it where appropriate. I wanted to make you aware, if you were not already, that MA NRCS has a Silvopasture Establishment (381) Standard. It looks like the standard was developed in 2012. You should be able to and encouraged to seek planning and financial assistance in creating Silvopasture on your farm. The applicable practices under this standard included: Thinning w/grass establishment, or establishing trees in pasture. The one rule is you cannot convert forestland to pasture, it must be for dual use as forestland and pasture. I hope this was helpful. I've attached the MA-381 Standard.
Starting my third year with "cows in the woods" and working with my forester to plan a multi-acre, multi-pasture silvopasture cut in the fall. Brett has been very helpful to us. We are actively working on a 5+ acre piece now releasing good trees.
I get the same reactions - "sounds good, but won't work". Actually, Silvopasture is a form of the current buzzword MIG - management intensive grazing. It's just done with some trees involved - the idea is the same: move 'em in, let them work, move 'em out.... recover, repeat......
any info specific to Mass is anxiously anticipated...... good luck to us all....
I've had a similar response in Vermont. They will not pay to fence animals into a forested area even if it's a managed system. AND they will only pay to use herbicides on invasives and refuse to consider goats or sheep.