Sunday, September 19, 2010

Silvopasture Online Course Launched with CFE Credits

The online course on Silvopasture in the Southeast US is now available. You can view it at:
The web gurus from UGA's Bugwood Network have completed the registration and quiz elements which allows users to register and receive CFE credits. All content is accessible including microlectures and powerpoints.

Friday, November 07, 2008

New Photos

Here are some photos from recent silvopasture site visits in the southeastern US.

Silvopasture in the Southeast

Monday, January 22, 2007

Advantages and Disadvantages of Silvopasture as Seen by Landowners in Argentina.

Gregory Frey


Silvopasture systems have the potential to offer many benefits for landowners. However, for those farmers considering installing a new silvopasture plot on their land, there can be several difficulties, such as the high front-end investment requirement in capital and labor (Dagang and Nair, 2003; Pagiola et al., 2004).  It is important for farmers who are considering adopting silvopasture to know the opinions of their peers who have taken the step of adoption.

Shrestha, Alavalapati and Kalmbacher (2004) investigated the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of silvopasture practices in south Florida by interviewing three agricultural “opinion leaders”, and found that the positives afforded by silvopasture appear to outweigh negatives.  In particular, opinion leaders indicated that silvopasture systems could provide a strong sense of stewardship and satisfaction to adopters and aid in environmental protection.  On the other hand, characteristics such as the length of the silvopasture investment and uncertainty about government regulations were the major disadvantages of adopting the system (Shrestha et al., 2004).  Shrestha, et al. (2004) notes the need for further study of likely adopters’ perceptions of agroforestry system through surveying a larger sample.

This study investigates the motivations behind silvopasture adoption among farmers of different scales.  Further it addresses the issue of whether adopters are likely to continue use of the system.

Description of the Study Area

The northeastern provinces of Misiones and northern Corrientes, Argentina have experienced some adoption of silvopasture systems in recent years, reaching an extent of approximately 10,000 hectares (Esquivel et al., 2004).  Adoption has been moderate and has been among farms of all scales (small, medium and large). This region of Argentina is a humid, subtropical zone.  Annual precipitation ranges from 1600-1900mm, with the winter months of June-August being somewhat drier.  Average temperature is approximately 15 C in July and 27 C in January.

There exists a diversity of farm types in Misiones and Corrientes.  Northern Corrientes and southwestern Misiones are flat prairie-land, and has been traditionally used by cattle ranchers.  Central and northern Misiones consists of the eco-region known as the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest.  This area is utilized by semi-subsistence farmers as well as producers of tea, yerba mate and tobacco, and varying scales of forest-product firms, who primarily plant pine species.

Pagiola, et al. (2004) posited that a relatively small payment at the time of silvopasture establishment to offset some of the cost of investment would be enough to convince farmers to adopt silvopasture for the long-term.  In order to encourage the forest-product industry in Misiones, the national government of Argentina began offering cost-share programs to offset a portion of the costs of site preparation and plantation. This program functioned fairly well until the Argentine economic crisis of 2001, when the government defaulted on international debt and devalued the currency.  In addition, some small scale semi-subsistence farmers have benefited from special forestry extension programs which include in-kind provision of necessary capital inputs such as tree seedlings, pasture seed and fencing wire.


Among other questions, farmers were asked in a survey about the advantages and disadvantages that they perceived in the silvopasture system at two points in time, at the time of the adoption decision and in the present (i.e. during implementation of the system).  In addition, farmers were asked whether they would be likely to continue practicing silvopasture systems, if all cost-share and in-kind support programs were terminated.

In total, 38 silvopasture practitioners of varying scales were interviewed, producing 35 usable responses.  Farm size (including nearby properties) ranged from 20 to 14,000 hectares with a mean of 1536 ha and a median of 280 ha.  Surveyed farmers were classified into three groups: small-scale (0-50 hectares), medium-scale (90-1000 ha) and large-scale (>1000 ha).  There were 13 small-, 10 medium- and 12 large-scale farmers in the sample.


In many cases, the perceived benefits and detriments of the system varied from the point in time before adopting the system to the present.  Among the 35 farmers interviewed, a total of 16 distinct advantages were perceived through the two time frames (at the time of adoption and at the present) (table 1).  In addition, 16 different disadvantages of the system were noted (table 2).


It should be noted that in some cases, farmers provided contradictory responses (e.g. some stated that silvopasture improves timber quality and growth while others said the opposite).  This is because the study does not quantify real advantages and disadvantages of silvopasture, rather it quantifies farmers’ perceptions of those advantages and disadvantages, which vary from farmer to farmer.

In general, there were far fewer negative responses about silvopasture systems than positive responses.  It is important to note that, since the sample was only of adopters, rather than a random sample of all farmers, this does not necessarily mean that silvopasture in general is more positive than negative.

Table 1:       Expected (at time of adoption) or actual (presently-perceived) advantages or benefits of silvopasture systems.


Expected or Actual Advantage



Cash flow

The silvopasture system products (livestock, thinned timber and final
sawtimber) operate on different time scales.  Livestock and thinnings
provide short- to medium-term returns while the sawtimber acts as a
long-term investment.


Silvopasture provides a low-cost way to combine two activities that
farmers were practicing anyway.

Cost share

In many cases, the farmers can apply for a cost-share payment from the


Silvopasture systems provide more profit than alternative production
systems in the region.

Less risk

By providing two products (livestock and timber), the system mitigates
risks involved with weather and fluctuating prices.



Trees provide microclimate benefits for livestock and forage.  In
the summer, shade reduces heat stress on the livestock and thus allows
farmers to utilize more productive breeds which are worse adapted to
heat.  Also, reduced heat stress on the forage helps keep it tender
and palatable in the summer.  In the winter, trees provide some
shelter against frost and increase productivity of the forage.

Weed control

Livestock help combat shade-tolerant weeds which would otherwise need
to be sprayed in forest plantations.  Trees shade out some aggressive
weeds which would otherwise appear in open-air pastures.

Fire control

Livestock reduce the amount of dry matter under the forest, and thus
reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires.

Erosion control

Compared to other production systems, silvopasture provides a high
degree of soil cover.

Ant control

Ants are a major problem in forest plantations in this area. 
There seemed to be fewer problems when livestock were present.


Double use

The system produces two products, timber and livestock, from the same
parcel of land.

Timber quality

The silviculture implied by a silvopasture system (high intensity of
pruning and thinning) leads to a high-quality end product (high grade
sawtimber or veneer).


A higher livestock stocking rate was obtained under silvopasture than
in open pastures.

Timber growth

With the intense thinnings, the crop trees grew faster.



Some farmers indicated that the system was pleasurable to work with or
aesthetically pleasing to see.


By limiting the need for agrochemicals and reforesting, the system was
perceived as environmentally-friendly.

Stand/livestock monitoring

With livestock in the stands, and many silvicultural activities taking
place, workers were more often present to report potential

Table 2:       Expected (at time of adoption) or actual (presently-perceived) disadvantages or negatives of silvopasture systems.


Expected or Actual Disadvantage




There are two forms of risk: 1) being a new technology, relatively few
studies have been conducted on precise management prescriptions, leaving
farmers to trial and error, and 2) institutional instability in Argentina
creates risk in prices, export policy and the continuance of the subsidy
(cost-share) program.

Land requirement

It is difficult to set aside land for a new production system.  In
particular, farmers who have all their pastures occupied must remove
livestock from the parcels where trees are planted for 2-3 years while the
trees become established until they can tolerate the impact of the

Capital requirement

Without a subsidy (cost-share) program, the investment required for the
purchase of seedlings, herbicides, pesticides, etc. can be high.

Labor requirement

Silvopasture appears to be much more labor intensive than either
open-air pasture or plantation forests because of frequent thinning,
pruning, pasture rotation, etc., in order to maintain the necessary


Plant competition

Competition between the tree and forage components for light, water and

System complexity

The system requires a very intensive management regime and can be quite
difficult for those uninitiated in the management of one of the components
(silviculture or livestock/forage management).

Sanitary problems

Wooded areas provide habitat for an increased quantity of livestock
pests, such as ticks.

Trees fall on fence

Especially when the silvopasture parcel involves a thinned native stand
rather than a planted stand, trees can occasionally fall, causing damage
to infrastructure.

Soil compaction

Livestock compact the soil around trees, increasing soil bulk density
to the detriment of the plants.

Livestock harm trees

Livestock can directly physically harm trees by trampling or pushing
over young trees, or scraping off the bark of older trees.

Water management

For a farmer who has not previously managed livestock, getting water to
livestock is a nuance that can create severe difficulties.

Pruning clean-up

One tree species (Araucaria angustifolia) has sharp leaves, so
pruned branches must be removed from the parcel so as not to injure the

Less docile

Animals are in a relatively more wild setting, and become less

Shade in winter

Livestock prefer to be in the sun when daytime temperatures are


Poor tree form/growth

Trees in a silvopasture setting did not grow as well as pure forest


Desired tree species

The subsidy program only pays for certain species, which may not match
the wishes of the farmer.

Expected Advantages of Silvopasture (perceived at time of adoption).

Among reasons for adoption (advantages perceived at the time of the adoption decision), the three farm-scales coincided in the most common response.  About 50% of farmers in each farm-scale group stated that the system provides two products from one parcel of land, thus allowing the manager to better take advantage of space (figure 1). 

Apart from the preceding identical response among the three farm scales, several differences were apparent between the three farm scales in their reasons for deciding to adopt silvopasture.  Among large-scale managers, a very common response was fire control (i.e. cattle grazing keeps down the fuel load of dry organic material underneath the forest stand).  This may partially reflect the fact that the more fire-prone, prairie areas of the region are generally divided into much larger landholdings, while areas of native forest are less likely to have major difficulties with fire and have been colonized more recently by small-scale farm families.  Another common response among large farmers was that the system reduced the need for mechanical or chemical weed control.

Medium-scale farmers had the most diverse reasons for adopting agroforestry.  Microclimate and weed control were the second most cited reasons.

Small farmers were more uniform in their responses than the other two groups.  The most common response, which as noted earlier was that one could obtain two products from one parcel of land, was cited at more than twice the frequency of the second most common response, microclimate benefits.  This narrow focus of responses may be due to two possible sources.  Either 1) small farmers place a high priority of maximizing output per unit of land because of their limited land available, or 2) many of the farmers have spoken to the same extensionist(s), who gives a similar pitch about the benefits of silvopasture to all interested farmers.

Currently Perceived Advantages of Silvopasture.

In general, the most common response was that silvopasture systems provide microclimate benefits for livestock management (figure 2).  Large- and medium-scale managers were more likely to give this response than small-scale farmers.  The second most common response in general, and the most common response among small-scale farmers was that silvopasture systems have good cash-flow qualities.  In particular, sale of cattle and frequent forest thinning can provide short- to medium-term income, while the growth of sawtimber acts as a long-term investment.  The fact that cash flow benefits were the most common response among small-scale farmers corresponds well to the fact that in developing regions it is difficult for small-scale farmers to access credit (or savings accounts).

High percentages of respondents also answered that silvopasture provided the benefits of two products from the same plot of land and weed control.  While the frequency among all farmers was the same, small farmers tended to respond that the double-use of land was a benefit while medium and large farmers were more pleased with the benefit of weed control.  Fire control was another important benefit for large and medium farmers.  A moderate number of all farmers also stated that silvopasture appeared to be more profitable than other production systems.

There were substantial differences between the benefits farmers believed they would receive when they adopted the systems and the benefits they actually felt were the most important now that they have significant experience with the system.  In particular, we should note that improved “microclimate” increased in perceived importance, surpassing “double use” of land, which decreased in frequency of response.  In addition, “cash flow” became an increasingly important benefit, especially for small-scale farmers.

Expected disadvantages of silvopasture (perceived at the time of adoption).

There were fewer differences about the expected disadvantages of silvopasture between farm-scale groups than in advantages (figure 3).  The most common response for all farmers and for each of the groups was concern about competition between trees and pasture for light, water and nutrients.  The second most common concern among all farmers was the complexity of the system (leading to difficulty of management activities).

Currently perceived disadvantages of silvopasture.

Notably, farmers have fewer concerns about silvopasture now that they have experience with the system than before adoption (figure 4).  Farmers were somewhat less concerned about negative interactions between trees and forage plants.  The decreased importance of concerns between plant competition relative to system complexity indicate that farmers now realize that there are many ways of managing the competition for light, water and nutrients among plants, although this management requires intense planning and labor.

The only disadvantage of silvopasture that was perceived to be more important currently than it was at the time of adoption was the requirement of investment capital to start the system.  Normally, we would think that this would be a more important disadvantage earlier, at the time of adoption, since this is when most of the investment would take place.  However, most of these farmers initially adopted silvopasture before 2001, when cost-share programs were more easily accessible, or were provided with materials such as seedlings and fencing.  It is likely that they did not view the capital requirement as a barrier at the time of adoption because of the availability of these programs, which are no longer a feasible alternative.

Likelihood of continuance.

The majority of farmers indicated that they had received help starting the silvopasture system either through government cost-share programs or in-kind support. By a wide margin, farmers indicated that they would probably increase the area of land given to silvopasture if cost-share or in-kind support programs continued (figure 5). Only one farmer responded that he would likely decrease the amount of his land given to silvopasture in the future.

In addition, the majority of farmers, particularly large- and medium-scale farmers, indicated that they would continue implementing silvopasture systems, even if no government support were provided (figure 6). This is a good indication that these farmers believe that silvopasture is beneficial to them. Furthermore, these data seem to indicate, to some degree (more so for larger-scale farmers), that the hurdle of convincing farmers to install silvopasture is a one-time barrier.


We have seen that small, medium and large farmers have different motivations in adopting silvopasture systems.  Small farmers are interested in the financial advantages of having short-, medium- and long-term cash flow, while larger-scale farmers seem to appreciate technical benefits such as improved microclimate, weed control and fire control.  Interestingly, the advantages and disadvantages farmers believed they would receive when they adopted the technology were quite different from what they actually feel they received.

The perceived advantages and disadvantages of silvopasture by these farmers in Argentina were markedly different than those determined in the Shrestha, et al. (2004) research in south Florida.  Argentines tended to place much less emphasis on perceived environmental benefits, rather focusing on direct financial and technical advantages.  This may be due to differences in culture, the importance of public opinion and governmental regulations between the two regions.

The question of whether or not the front-end investment in silvopasture is too much for farmers to overcome is still an interesting one and merits more precise research.  The majority of all adopters surveyed indicated that the capital requirement would not be a barrier towards continued implementation or even expansion of silvopasture on their lands.  However, it is questionable whether or not new farmers, particularly small farmers with limits on capital, are likely to adopt the system without some form of incentives.


  • Dagang, A.B.K. and P.K.R. Nair. 2003. Silvopastoral research and adoption in Central America: Recent findings and recommendations for future directions. Agrofor. Syst. 59:149-155.

  • Esquivel, J., H.E. Fassola, S.M. Lacorte, L. Colcombet, E. Crechi, N. Pachas and A. Keller. 2004. Sistemas silvopastoriles - Una sólida alternativa de sustenabilidad social, económica y ambiental. 11as Jornadas técnicas forestales y ambientales  - FCF, UNaM - EEA Montecarlo, INTA, 2004.

  • Pagiola, S., P. Agostini, J. Gobbi, C. de Haan, M. Ibrahim, E. Murgueitio, E. Ramírez, M. Rosales and J.P. Ruíz. 2004. Paying for biodiversityconservation services in agricultural landscapes. Rep. 96. The International Bank for Reconstruction/World Bank, Washington.

  • Shrestha, R.K., J.R.R. Alavalapati and R.S. Kalmbacher. 2004. Exploring the potential for silvopasture adoption in south-central Florida: An application of SWOT-AHP method. Agricultural Systems 81:185-199.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Silvopasture Project - Goldsboro, NC

This is just a brief introduction, but will serve a placeholder to let people know that we plan to start a silvopasture project in North Carolina this January, 2007. This will be a cooperative effort among NC State University, the NC Department of Agriculture, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

We are going to set up a research and demonstration project at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) near Goldsboro, NC. The project will involve planting trees in rows with pasture and crop strips inbetween. We will use 40' and 80' pasture or crop strips, and test three tree species - lobloly pine, longleaf pine, and cherrybark oak.

Stay tuned, and we will provide more information about the project soon.

You can contact us at:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is Silvopasture for You?

Traditionally, forest landowners who have managed southern pines could count on income derived from periodic thinnings of their stands for pulpwood while they waited for these stands to grow into higher-value sawtimber. However, over the last several years, the prices for pulpwood have decreased as many domestic mills are closing as forest industries construct mills overseas—especially in Latin America. If this trend continues, traditionally densely established pine plantations will not be the most cost-effective forest management system as acreage is tied up in lower-value trees that are eventually removed anyway.

For silvopasture, the landowner is establishing and producing trees with the goal of harvesting primarily for saw timber and establishing forage to reduce the need to purchase feed, thus optimizing land use by producing short and long term benefits. Landowners must be prepared to engage in some management of both tree and forage components over time as silvopasture is not a “plant it and leave it” system.

An Introduction to Silvopasture

Silvopasture systems are deliberately designed and managed to produce a high-value timber product (such as saw timber) in the long term while providing short-term annual economic benefit from a livestock component through the management of forage or an annual crop component.

While providing economic benefits, well-managed silvopasture systems can also:
  1. Improve overall economic performance of a farm enterprise through diversification
  2. Maintain or increase tree growth
  3. Improve cool-season grass production
  4. Allow warm-season grass production with careful canopy management
  5. Provide shade for livestock
  6. Produce pine straw for landscaping and mulch
  7. Aid in erosion control
  8. Increase wildlife populations
  9. Improve water quality
  10. Increase opportunities for recreation
  11. Enhance aesthetics and property values
  12. Provide wildlife habitat for turkey and quail