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Forest Farming

Forest Farming

In Forest Farming, high-value speciality crops are cultivated under the protection of a forest canopy that has been modified and managed to provide the appropriate conditions. It is a way of utilising forests for short-term income while high-quality trees are being grown for wood products. The amount of light in the stands is altered by thinning, pruning, or adding trees; 5-40% crown cover is usually desirable. Existing stands of trees can be intercropped with annual, perennial, or woody plants.

Five main categories of speciality crops are:

Food

  • Mushrooms, eg. Shiitake, matsuki (grown on logs, in sawdust/chipped wood beds etc.)
  • Nuts, eg. hazelnuts, small chestnut species; note that the canopy trees could also be nut producers, eg. walnuts, chestnuts, pecans, pine nuts
  • Vegetables, eg. radish, beetroot, Swiss chard
  • Honey from bee plants, eg. plum, black locust
  • Herbs, eg. mints
  • Fruits, eg. blueberries, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, gooseberries
  • Edible flowers, eg. elderflowers
  • Sap products – eg. maple syrup, birch sap wine etc.


Decoratives

  • Floral greenery (mosses, ferns, beargrass, salal, Eucalyptus etc)
  • Christmas trees
  • Dye plants


Handicrafts

  • Basketry materials (willows etc.)
  • Short-term coppice, eg. hazel poles, energy coppice


Botanicals

Many medicinal plants are used in herbal medicine and are used to give clinically useful drugs, such as:

  • Adonis vernalis (Spring adonis)
  • Agrimonia eupatoria (Agrimony)
  • Ammi majus (Queen Anne’s lace)
  • Anabasis aphylla
  • Anisodus tanguticus
  • Artemesia annua (Annual wormwood)
  • Artemisia maritima (Sea wormwood)
  • Atropa belladonna (Belladonna)
  • Berberis vulgaris (Barberry)
  • Brassica nigra (Blck mustard)
  • Colchicum autumnale (Autumn crocus)
  • Convallaria majalis (Lily of the valley)
  • Coptis japonica
  • Corydalis ambigua
  • Cynara scolymus (Globe artichoke)
  • Cytisus scoparius (Broom)
  • Daphne genkwa
  • Digenia simplex (Makuri)
  • Digitalis lanata & D. purpurea (Foxgloves)
  • Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen)
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Glaucium flavum (Horned poppy)
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (Liquorice)
  • Hemsleya amabilis
  • Hydrangea macrophylla
  • Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal)
  • Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane)
  • Larrea divaricata
  • Lobelia inflata
  • Lycoris squamigera
  • Mentha spp. (Mints)
  • Panax spp. (Ginseng)
  • Podophyllum peltatum (May apple)
  • Potentilla fragarioides
  • Rhododendron molle
  • Salix alba (White willow)
  • Sambucus spp. (Elders – flowers)
  • Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
  • Silybum marianum (Milk thistle)
  • Sophora pachycarpa
  • Stephania sinica
  • Taxus brevifolia (Pacific yew)
  • Thymus vulgaris (Thyme)
  • Trichosanthes kirilowii (Snake gourd)
  • Urgenia maritima (Squill)
  • Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)
  • Veratrum album (White hellebore)
  • Vinca minor (lesser periwinkle)
  • Essential oil crops can also be cultivated, eg. Eucalyptus leaves, mints, lemon balm, thyme


Wood Products

  • Charcoal from understorey trees
  • Fuelwood
  • Special woods, eg. for carving, incense
  • Garden mulches from chipped wastes & coppice; pine needle mulches


An existing British system which falls into the latter two categories is coppice with standards – eg. hazel coppice with standards of oak.

forestfarming1The cultivation of mushrooms (the medicinal Ganoderma spp. are shown) on logs can be a profitable business

Typically, a system can be established by thinning an existing forest to leave the best trees for continued wood production and to create conditions for the understorey crop to be grown. The understorey crop is then planted and managed intensively to provide short-term income. Areas used for forest farming are usually small (5 acres or less), and systems usually focus on a single crop plus timber, but can be designed to produce several products. Examples of such systems in North America include:

  • Ginseng (medicinal) + maple syrup + bee products + timber
  • Shiitake mushrooms (grown on cut logs) + timber
  • Ferns & beargrass (decorative) + mushrooms + timber
  • Ginseng + walnuts + black walnut veneer logs
  • Christmas trees + timber

Before investing time and money in growing speciality forest products, entrepreneurs should :

  1. Obtain production and processing information. Proper harvest, storage and transport will maximise returns.
  2. Locate sources of technical expertise.
  3. Locate or develop potential markets, often local stores or co-operatives.

All these can be quite difficult, especially in Britain where there is little culture of utilising forests in this way. However, products such as medicinal plants are increasingly in demand and there is no reason why many (for example, elder flowers or annually coppiced yews or gingkos) cannot be grown in British forest farms. The internet is an increasingly good source of locating non-local buyers of such crops. In North America, Co-operative Extension Services and the USDA Forest Service can often provide expertise.

Benefits:

Economic benefits can be significant. Logs can produce shiitake mushrooms worth 5-10 times the value of the logs themselves, and forest-cultivated ginseng averages £122-245 per pound in North America. Other medicinal plants provide a lower but steady supplemental income. Markets for floral decoratives have been steadily increasing.

Forest farming modifies the forest ecosystem but does not significantly interfere with its crucial contributions of water filtering, soil erosion control, microclimate moderation, and wildlife habitat.

Forest farming provides opportunities to generate short-term income from existing woodlands, with minimum capital investment. Especially on small family farms, this can contribute significantly to diversification and rural economic development.

Drawbacks:

Requires more of an entrepreneurial attitude from farmers and landowners.

Likely to need to conduct research to locate potential buyers of speciality products.

Forest farming systems are often labour intensive – often acceptable if ‘family labour’ is available.