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Multi-cropping with trees: increase your production by planting tree crops in your pastures.

How would you like to have a pasture which provided tons of high protein forage per year per acre with almost no effort on your part? How would you like to have a pasture which provided grazing and a commercial crop as well? Too good to be true? Maybe not.

I recently found a copy of Forest Farming (Rodale Press, 1976) by J. S. Douglas and R. A. Hart. The authors, inspired by J. Russell Smith's Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture elaborated on the potential of trees to do triple duty -- conservation, tree crops and livestock feeding. (A fourth use would be selective harvesting.)

Gow crops suited to the land

The authors joined Smith in his observation that land ought to grow the crop most suited to it, and in many cases that may be tree crops. They repeated Smith's vision of a future: "The hills on my vision have farming which fits them and replaces the poor pasture, the gullies and the abandoned land which characterizes today so large a part of the U.S. These ideal farms have their level and gentle sloping land protected by terraces, their other parts are planted with crop trees -- mulberries persimmons honey locust, grafted black walnut, grafted heartnut, hickory, oak and similar harvest yielding species (with livestock grazing under them). The crops are worked out into series to make good farm economy."

The products of trees

The authors state, "There are trees which will supply fruit or nuts with the protein equivalent of the best quality meat or fish; tree-cereals; trees which provide edible oils, |milk' and sugars; and trees whose leaves or shoots are as palatable as those of conventional vegetables. Tree legumes have been used extensively in forest farming projects in some regions, as they can not only supply large quantities of highly nutritious cereal-equivalent crops with a protein content ranging normally from 14-25 percent as compared with the 6-18 percent content of common cereals, but also release netrogen into the soil for the benefit of neighboring plants."

Some useful trees

Some of the trees they highlighted of interest in the U.S. were:

1) Algarobas (15-20 tons/acre): In the Americas it ranges from Texas to Chile with six species growing in the U. S. There are both heat-loving and frost-resistant varieties. In some areas, such as the Southwest, two crops of beans can be harvested. Considerable work was carried out on the potential of algarobas at the New Mexico and Arizona Agricultural Experiment Stations at one time.

2) Mulberries (8-10 tons/acre): Mulberries were once a major supplemental feed crop for pastured swine. The general rule of thumb was one mature tree could carry one to two head for its fruiting period of about two months. There are early, mid- and late-season fruiting varieties. While primarily used for swine, they were also relished by other livestock.

3) Chestnuts (7-11 tons/acre): Prior to the chestnut blight, the native American chestnut was a major source of mast for livestock, primarily swine, and was "the corn tree." There continues to be small-scale experimentation with blight-resistant varieties with some showing good promise to revive their value to American

4): Persimmons (5-7 tons/acre): The America variety is astringent, which means it is very bitter if not fully mature. However, there are a number of Asian varieties which are not only heavy bearers, but also have fruit which can be eaten in just about all stages of development. Persimmons and mulberries were normally left when woods were cleared for swine pasture.

5): Carob (18-20 tons/acre): Carobs were first planted in Southern California between 1870 and 1880. It produces a seed pod which has over 50 percent sugar content and has been used as a chocolate substitute. For livestock feeding, carob pods have been found slightly superior to barley. They thrive in rocky and stony land in and and semi-arid regions. They are drought-resistant and the authors say they am cold-resistant down to about 36 degrees F; however, they are from the Eastern Mediterranean where winter temperatures go be low freezing. The productive fife of the carob is about 100 years.

6) Honey locust (15-20 tons/acre): Good specimens of this species can give very high yields of edible pods containing about 27 percent sugar. They can be a foot or more in length and are relished by all classes of livestock. They are adaptive to most areas of the U. S. and their open canopy readily allows forages to be grown underneath. Bear in mind orchard grass received its name because it grows well in semi-shade.

7) Oaks (10-12 tons/acre): There are two primary families of oaks; the white oak and the black oak. The white produces a "sweet mast," while the black produces a "bitter mast." Oaks have been used for livestock feed, primarily for swine and goats; however, the tannic acid in some varieties can cause death in ruminants, such as cattle and horses, particularly the young. Where the white oak family is properly thinned so as to develop freely, an acre of land is roughly equal to an acre of corn for swine at maturity.

8) Others of interest would be walnut (10-15 tons/acre), pecan/hickory (9-11 tons/acre) and hazelnut/filbert (9-12 tons/acre).

(The tons per acre cited by authors were for annual yields from well-managed plantations of good-quality trees. For comparison purposes, a 100-bushel corn harvest would be less than three tons to the acre and a 40-bushel soybean harvest would be about 1.2 tons to the acre.)

In all, the authors found over 100 species of non-commercial trees which have potential for multi-cropping as leguminous (pod), nut, fruit, oil or fodder.

Hybrid poplars

A recent development has been the use of hybrid poplars for livestock feed. Once established, their shoots and leaves provide forage for most grazing livestock. Rotational grazing will keep the trees grazed back without killing them. If they get too high, they can be cut down and given to livestock -- the regrowth shoots will provide further grazing. Once several trees are growing, they can be propagated from twig cuttings.

Some possible applications today:

1) Leguminous trees, interplanted with crop-bearing shrubs (e.g., hazelnuts) and medium-height crop-bearing trees, in fence rows between permanent paddocks as shade, wind-protection and forage for about all species of livestock.

2) Mixed plantation of fruit, nut and pod-bearing trees in a swine lot. Stocked at the proper number, a lot of this nature would go a long way towards providing their forage from early summer to early winter.

3) Fast-growing forage trees (e.g., the hybrid poplars) on rocky or moist areas which are difficult to use even as pasture. This type of tree can even be used to help dry up a wet area as they give off gallons of moisture each day. Rocky areas could also become a swine or goat lot as mentioned above. Two other forage trees under study are lecaena and mimosa.

4) Small scale nut production for local wholesale may be possible. Have you noted the price of Christmas nuts in groceries of from $2-$3 per pound? In a nut orchard, ruminants could be allowed to forage to keep the grasses grazed low until nuts start to drop. After harvest, unharvested nuts could be cleaned up by swine. For local nut whole-saling, chestnuts seem to offer the most promise due to their rarity.

Finding species and varieties

To find the species and variety you are interested in, the starting point should be Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory: An Inventory of Nursery Catalogs Listing All Fruit, Berry and Nut Varieties Available by Mail Order in the United States by the staff of Seed Savers Exchange, Rt. 3, Box 239, Decorah, IA 52101, $19 postpaid. Some commercial sources are:

Mellinger's, 2310 W. South Range Rd., North Lima, OH 444-9731.

TEC, P. O. Box 539, Osseo, MN 44369.

Austree, Inc., P. O. Box 830, Pescadero, CA 94060 sells a fast growing hybrid poplar which can be used for livestock forage. Due to the high cost of these rooted cuttings, it may be more cost beneficial to order a small number and then to use them to obtain future cuttings.

Oikos Tree Crops, 721 North Fletcher, Kalamazoo, MI 49007-3077. They also sell Tubex tree shelters, which are 2,3,5, or 6 foot long clear plastic tubes which can be put over seedlings to protect them as a type of mini-green-house. They will eventually decompose as the tree matures and thus would provide grazing protection for seedlings.

Chestnut Growers Exchange, Rt. 3, Box 267, Alachua, FL 32615. This is a clearing house for work on blight-resistant varieties and for nurseries which carry them.

(Tree Crops is available from The Stockman Grass Farmer Bookshelf, P. O. Box 9607, Jackson, MS 39286-9607 for $24.45 postpaid. Check with a local library to determine if Forest Farming is available through inter-library loan.)
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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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