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May 30, 2017

Shared Land Use: Timber and Cattle Ranch Land

Silvopasture: a timber and cattle ranch concept with reciprocal benefits.

Forests are an important part of our landscape. If you drive through the Southeastern United States, beautiful, expansive forestland spreads out before you, perfect for recreation and hunting. A recent AgAmerica Lending article points out that a timber and cattle ranch concept—called silvopasture—allows our forests to be important both for land and cattle. AgAmerica Loan Processor Doug Moore explains how cattle and sheep can prove beneficial to forest health.

How Timber and Cattle Ranch Land Can Be One and the Same

Forests are important for a variety of reasons, including improving air quality by filtering pollutants and regulating watershed. Doug Moore said in the article, “from an economic standpoint, they are a plentiful, biodegradable, renewable, recyclable, sustainable product that provides jobs and income for millions.”

Timberland is managed in many different ways, but a newer option is to use livestock, explained Moore. “Forestry and cattle can coexist through a practice known as silvopasture,” Moore said. “This is the integrated management of forestry, livestock and, of course, the necessary forage for that livestock. It doesn’t only pertain to cattle; it’s also very common with sheep.” A critical look at the benefits for both land and cattle is an important first step.

Reciprocal Benefits for Forests, Livestock and Ranchers

Livestock offer a number of benefits to timberland as they graze. “The cattle naturally keep the forest floor groomed by eating native forage, which helps cut down on competition with the timber for nutrients,” said Don Harden, Relationship Manager with AgAmerica Lending. “The grazing cattle also help generate their own forage. Split-hooved animals, like cattle, aerate the soil as they graze which keeps it loosened and trenched, allowing for natural seed planting and growth to occur. One animal grazing digs the trench, the seed falls in, and the next animal buries the seed.”

Another important benefit of livestock grazing for the forests is the reduction of fine fuels – which include dry grasses, leaves or needles – that can cause forest fires to spread quickly. Livestock help to reduce the amount of fine fuels in a forest, ultimately reducing the chance of fire.

There are definite advantages for the ranchers as well. “Benefits for the cattle rancher come through a decreased diurnal soil temperature,” Moore said. “Due to the shade, it’s cooler under the forest canopy. Therefore, the forage doesn’t lose nutrient value in the harsh sun, and the animals are less stressed in the heat of the summer.”

Harden adds that rotational grazing in forests gives pasture a rest, and livestock a high-protein source of food. “It gives hay the opportunity to regrow during this time and diversifies the diet of the herd,” Harden added. This rotational grazing strategy also helps cycle minerals back into the soil helping forests regenerate, and cattle ranchers profit.

However, management is an important part of the timber and cattle ranch equation. Livestock farmers and ranchers do need to be cautious, as overgrazing can become an issue if the timing, duration, and intensity aren’t properly managed.

Keeping Forests Healthy

Silvopasture is just one of many forest management systems used to keep forests healthy. USDA National Agroforestry Center offers more detail on this and other practices. “The most important thing is to keep biodiversity in mind,” advised Moore. “That is, make sure your forest management plan increases the overall health of the ecosystem while accomplishing your timber management objectives.”

At AgAmerica Lending we are proud to apply our Southeast commodity expertise to financing timberland and cattle ranch operations. Contact us today to let us help support your forest management program with a customized land loan package.

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