Expanding opportunities for agroforestry

A team of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin researchers and Extension professionals has recently been awarded funding from USDA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help support use of agroforestry practices and markets by small and medium sized farms in the region.

“This project involves a team of passionate and dedicated researchers and Extension professionals who have worked with farmers and woodland owners in the Upper Midwest for decades. This is a unique opportunity to support synergy between forestry and agriculture professionals and landowners to expand use of agroforestry practices through the region,” said Emily Huff, the project lead and associate professor in the Department of Forestry at Michigan State University.

Much is known about the characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of U.S. family forest owners and agricultural landowners independently. However, little is known about those who own bothwoodland and farmland, and what, if any, agroforestry and woodland management practices are used by these Farmer Woodland Owners (FWOs).

The project will provide opportunities for FWOs in each state to gather in farmer learning circles and connect with agriculture and natural resource professionals to identify innovative uses of trees and forests within agricultural systems that can improve farm viability and increase environmental and social benefits.

An initial pilot project conducted in Michigan in 2022 demonstrated the need for better connections between professionals who advise farmers and forest landowners (respectively) and to improve access to agroforestry resources among farmers.

Alyse Wilson, of Mischief Makers Farm, LLC was active in the early pilot phase of this project.

“It’s being a steward of the land and working with it for our goals to either support the homestead, support a business, support whatever, but also for the health of the forest and the land. You can’t complete one without eventually depleting the other,” Wilson said.

This grant provides an opportunity to address these gaps through Peer-to-Peer Agroforestry Exchanges, improved decision support tools, cost-share for agroforestry planning and practices, and development of case study videos to highlight agroforestry and woodland management options as well as opportunities to get paid for providing environmental benefits in emerging ecosystem service markets.

The team aims to develop agroforestry demonstration farms in each state where the ecological, social, and economic impacts of agroforestry on farmers’ land, businesses, and households can be evaluated.

The impact of this project on the region’s farming and forestry industries is significant. Farm viability will improve by increasing the diversity of products coming from farms. Increased carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and water quality will enhance environmental outcomes, and provide opportunities for small and medium sized farms to participate in new ecosystem service markets.

This project began summer 2023 and will continue until the end of 2028. Major milestones in the first year include recruitment of farmers to participate in Agroforestry Exchanges, and development of research protocols for demonstration farms.

If you or anyone you know might be interested in participating in this project — either research or event opportunities — please contact the Project Manager, Amanda Curton at curtonam@msu.edu or the Ohio State University co-leads: Kathy Smith (smith.81@osu.edu) and Doug Jackson-Smith (Jackson-smith.1@osu.edu).

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