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"Silvopasture" Movement Reaches WI Farms

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Monday, February 8, 2021   

MADISON, Wis. -- As brutal cold grips the upper Midwest, some farm animals are getting protection from the wind in forested settings.

They're being raised through a form of sustainable agriculture that's gaining attention in Wisconsin.

Ag researchers say "silvopasture" has long been popular in Europe, and is catching on in the U.S.

It integrates trees, forage and grazing livestock. Producers can either strategically plant trees in a pasture, or have their animals rotate through existing woodlands.

Diane Mayerfeld, senior outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Extension, said it benefits livestock by helping protect them from extreme cold or the summer heat, and it can improve a farmer's bottom line.

"Having those three different systems means you have an additional source of income," Mayerfeld explained. "Either income from the trees in addition to the livestock, or income from the livestock in addition to the trees."

There's also an environmental benefit: Planting more trees means they can sequester carbon from the air.

But Mayerfeld said silvopasture requires some detailed management to avoid drawbacks that could hurt the movement. Her office and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute shared information with livestock producers in a panel discussion this winter.

Other partners included the Conservation Professional Training Program, the Iowa County Farmer-Led Uplands Watershed Group, and the Savanna Institute.

Keefe Keeley, co-executive director of the Institute, which advocates for more Midwestern farmers to adopt agroforestry, said there's a lot of trial and error, including keeping livestock from stomping over growing trees.

But he emphasized it isn't a reason for farmers to stop trying.

"When you're talking about climate change and how do we get more atmospheric carbon in our landscapes, planting trees in open pastures is where that possibility is really strong," Keeley contended.

According to the most recent Ag-Census Survey, nearly 1,100 Wisconsin farms said they practiced some form of agroforestry, and while researchers say it's hard to determine how much of that is silvopasture, they estimate it accounts for a significant portion.

Disclosure: Michael Fields Agricultural Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Rural/Farming, and Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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