Growing trees along with forages in pastures could offer economic benefits to cattle producers, according to specialists at Mississippi State University. Rocky Lemus, MSU Extension Service forage specialist, says “silvopasture” systems can improve the overall economic performance of a farm enterprise through diversification. Lemus says that in the Southeast, most commercially grown pines — loblolly, slash and long leaf varieties — are suitable for silvopasture systems. In addition to providing timber income to the land-owner, these trees offer wind protection and shade for livestock. Many livestock owners who implement silvo-pasture systems use forages such as tall fescue, bahiagrass and Bermuda-grass, he adds. “Forage should be selected based on suitability for grazing, compatibility with the site characteristics and performance in the shade,” Lemus says. “Some legumes, such as clover or vetch, can be incorporated in this system.” Other benefits of agro-forestry systems include reduced runoff and erosion, improved water quality and nutrient cycling. These benefits can make the system more profitable by lowering inputs such as fertilizer into the system, increasing revenues from hunting leases and lowering environmental impacts.
One challenge is that producers need to keep livestock out of these pastures until the trees are tall and strong enough to avoid damage from grazing. Using the land between tree rows for hay production is an alternative while the trees establish.