Forest
Farming

Forest farming is one of five systems of agroforestry practice that is commonly recognized in North America. Like other agroforestry practices, forest farming is characterized by the four i's:

intentional
integrated
intensive
interactive (1)

Unlike other agroforestry practices such as alley cropping or silvopasture where trees are introduced into some type of agricultural system, in forest farming, agricultural or cropping techniques are intentionally introduced into existing forested systems. (2)

Common types of practice include medicinal plants, gourmet mushrooms and bee products. Floral, fruit and nut crops also hold promise for being produced in forest farming practices.

The various product options have different forest management requirements. The principle forest management requirement for apiculture, and for maple syrup production, involves tree crop selection and possible thinning to increase crown size for bee forage or sap production. Medicinal herb production normally involves cultivating the forest floor and possibly thinning the canopy to create the appropriate microclimate. Small diameter hardwoods that are removed for timber stand improvement may be used as logs or chippings for mushroom production.

 

An important concern for any of these practices is the use of chemicals in the production of either the tree crop or the farmed crop. Any proposed chemical must be compatible for all components (i.e., animal and plant) in the practice. Long term forest health must be of paramount concern to designers and managers of viable forest farming practices.

For more information about agroforestry see the USDA National Agroforestry Center's web page: http://www.unl.edu/nac/

(1) Gold, M.A., W.J. Rietveld, H.E. Garrett and R.F. Fisher, 2000. In: H.E. Garrett, W.J. Rietveld, and R.F. Fisher (eds.) North American Agroforestry: An Integrated Science and Practice, American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Madison, WI. Chapter 3.
(2) Hill, D.B. and L.E. Buck, 2000. Forest farming practices. Ibid, Chapter 8.

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