With the current concern land managers have for the health of their land and the desire to promote carbon sequestration, silvopasture offers a means to regenerate degraded, less healthy land.
Silvopasture is more than putting livestock into a forested area or planting trees in a grassland. It involves intensive management that requires regular monitoring and management responses that adjust animal numbers and animal placement to promote plant growth and ecosystem health.
The publication, “Silvopasture, A Guide to Managing Grazing Animals, Forage Crops, And Trees In A Temperate Farm Ecosystem,” by Steve Gabriel, provides a comprehensive look at this approach to land management and how it can be successful as a regenerative practice.
In other parts of the world, silvopasture has been a more common practice. In many areas of Europe and South America, for example, it is a recognized way of providing both forage and shelter to domestic animals. It is a cultural norm.
In most of the eastern and central parts of the U.S., trees were removed during colonization to open the land to cultivation. With that history and the more recent evolution toward larger and more specialized types of farms in the U.S., we have fewer situations where pastures and woodlands are intermingled. The western states have more land on which grazing is found in forested areas that most other parts of the U.S.
Silvopasture as a practice in the temperate parts of the U.S. is small, but is starting to grow as interest in regenerative management increases. Examples of current silvopasture programs in several eastern states showed the versatility available for a variety of trees and crops. The examples utilized sheep, pigs, turkeys and cattle in different woodland situations.
The benefits realized from these programs include better support of animal health, higher crop yields, reduced inputs for pest control and healthier soil, as well as climate change mitigation.
These mixed or combined systems sequester significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. A combined approach, like silvopasture, is more effective in sequestering carbon than either forests or grasslands alone. Silvopasture can provide a successful way to address the problems of climate change.
Success with this kind of long-range approach requires more long-term thinking and planning than most other management styles. For example, the author points out that a vegetable farmer will get results from a practice change within a year, normally. In contrast, damage to a tree can take up to a decade to express itself.
While silvopasture is not new as a management approach, in the U.S. it does not have the history or historical development that has taken place in other parts of the globe. Also, the recent interest in its ability to regenerate ecosystems makes it a practice that draws our interest and on which we could afford to invest some time and resources. To learn more about silvopasture and its benefits, look for this publication by Mr. Gabriel, which is available online.