News release: Forest Farming

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release date: Oct. 31, 2013

Title: Forest Farming

The last agroforestry practice that I would like to discuss is forest farming. This practice involves growing crops that tolerate, or even require, shade beneath a forested overstory.

There are a lot of plants that require shade to do well. Many medicinal herbs require shade, such as ginseng, goldenseal, or bloodroot. There are established markets for many of these crops.

There are food crops that can be produced in shade as well. Wild leeks are grown in forested settings in some parts of the country. Honey can be considered an agroforestry product when hives are placed under trees.  Many trees provide a good nectar flow at certain times of the year.

Mushrooms are a great agroforestry food product.  Shiitake mushrooms, for example, can be grown on logs, in the shade. These log-grown mushrooms are in high demand in gourmet restaurants and other food outlets.

 What about ornamental products for the craft market?  There are plenty of such items that are grown in the woods. Willow twigs, various vines, ferns, and even pine cones are good examples. In some parts of the country, pine straw, which comes from baled pine needles, is harvested to sell to homeowners to use as mulch for ornamentals. It can be a good market.

Some understory trees can be grown for nursery stock. Dogwood is a good example, although counties in the northern part of our Northwest Extension Region won’t be able to grow it since it’s too cold up here.

Really, when you think about it, only you imagination limits you. I know of one person who collects blossoms from wild plum trees (and other species) and distills their essence into a natural perfume.  It’s amazing!

Specialty woods are another interesting market. I know of one landowner who found high-value, desirable trees, and harvested them himself. He then cured the wood, and sold it to wood workers for a good price. That’s an excellent example of a value-added product.

Then there are those situations where you plant a food-producing “forest” yourself. Pecans are a good example, although large-scale pecan plantings should not be attempted north of Highway 36. A new tree crop for Missouri is chestnuts. Dr. Michael Gold, Professor of Agroforestry at the University of Missouri, has been working with these at the MU Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) at New Franklin, MO. They make an impressive orchard.

Other woody species may be planted for fruit. One experimental planting at HARC is looking at pawpaws. A recent development in Missouri is the growing acreage planted to elderberries. There are some plantings of aronia as well.

While all of this may sound fascinating, remember that you have to sell your products. It all comes down to marketing. Some people have been quite successful.

If you have missed earlier columns on the five agroforestry practices, you can find them on my web site, or give me a call and I’ll send them to you. I can be reached at 660-663-3232.

In my final agroforestry column, I will tell you about some resources that may help you get started in any agroforestry enterprises you may wish to start.  I’ll also mention some Extension meetings that we are planning for the future, to help you learn more about the interesting field of agroforestry.