Silvopasture is one of several agroforestry techniques gaining ground with the agricultural community in this country. This method involves the intentional integration of trees and forage with livestock pastures. The benefit to landowners is increased productivity of pasture land; both livestock and timber can be produced on a parcel. There are environmental benefits as well; habitat and forage for wildlife, erosion control, stormwater management and improved water quality.
Trees benefit grazing animals by providing shelter and shade, but unfortunately this practice of intentional integration of forage and forestry where both are managed to maximize outputs is seldom implemented. This is unfortunate due to the range of benefits produced from these systems and the various issues which can be addressed through usage, both environmental and production, including:
- Mitigation of stress to livestock; climate extremes are buffered by vegetation
- Increased efficiency in the use of resources
- Improved timber values in degraded lots
- Improved nutrient cycling; trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere and also uptake excess nutrients put into the system via livestock (improves water quality by reduces nutrient loading)
- Decreased use of surface water bodies by animals for cooling (also improves water quality)
In the past, implementation of silvopasture systems has been slow to catch on due to lack of awareness and information and the existence of only a few systems for viewing. However, a team of foresters, agricultural extension agents, professors and agronomists at Virginia Technical University are developing research and demonstration sites to educate the public regarding design, management, economic impact and productivity of silvopasture systems. They plan to recruit and work with “first-adopters” to demonstrate how these systems can be designed, assembled and managed for greater economic and environmental results.