Forest Farming

Agroforestry, discussed briefly in a previous Nature Notes, can be described as a combination of agriculture and forestry. It is designed to maximize yield from the land, especially in areas with limited space. Forest farming, one of the six agroforestry practices, is utilizing forest already existing, and incorporating another product/producer with or within the forest. These products can be a wide range of things, such as medicinal plants, mushrooms, and bees. There are a variety of crops that can be grown well under the canopy of trees.

Forest farming is an often-overlooked agroforestry practice, and should be practiced more, as there is much less of a financial risk than in many of the other practices—  an initial investment is zero or very minimal, and little mechanization is needed. All that is required  is a forest. Opportunities are also numerous, as any product that comes from the forest can be considered forest farming. This includes nuts, fruits,  maple syrup, roots, mushrooms, honey (bees), native ornamentals, and so on. 

Forest farming allows landowners to cultivate and harvest the understory of their forest. A forest canopy can produce microclimates that create very specific environments where niche species can grow. These environments are not easily replicated, otherwise. For instance, ginseng, a very expensive medicinal, can be grown in mass production. However, it does not grow as well morphologically, and is, therefore, less valuable than if grown wildly in a forested setting. 

When forest farming for certain crops such as ginseng, it is important to remember to not over harvest, and to always obey the law. For instance, in order to harvest wild ginseng in Maryland, you need to obtain a ginseng permit, harvest during the appropriate season (Sept. 1 – Dec. 1), and sell to a registered dealer. Also, it cannot be harvested with less than 3 prongs, and all seed needs to be replanted in the vicinity of the harvest area.

There are two main challenges with forest farming: harvesting and market. Most crops produced through forest farming can be very time consuming to harvest. Since the forest remains intact, there is little room for machinery or mechanized equipment. Most methods will, therefore, require hand collection. Additionally, understanding the market for these unique products is just as important. Finding the market for these products can often be very specialized. For instance, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), a medicinal plant, can sell for $25 or more per pound for their roots. However, it may be difficult to find a buyer if consumer demands in the area have decreased. 

Forest farming has a lot to offer, and it is important to understand the time investment and the market. 

Article by the FCFCDB

Nature Note for 2/24/2019