Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cariboo Ranchers Demonstrate Silvopasture for Sustainable Diversification

Timber and livestock producers have faced more than a decade of volatility in commodity prices, fluctuating demand and exchange rates, pest outbreaks, and regulatory changes.  Collectively, these are affecting the structure and profitability of these industries.  Moreover, the mountain pine beetle epidemic has created unprecedented regional social and economic challenges for forest resource dependent communities in the Interior of BC.  Other large-scale resource management and conservation issues, including climate change, watershed stewardship, and wildfire risk, also require innovative solutions.  Silvopasture management offers practical options to sustainably address economic diversification for agricultural and timber interests that can also contribute positively to regional economic stability and environmental stewardship.

With funding from the BC Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative, Zirnhelt Ranch will demonstrate silvopasture methods to address gaps in existing information and knowledge that limit the adoption of these practices.  This demonstration will provide an operational-scale system to derive development guidelines, management recommendations and cost-benefit information.

A 10-ha silvopasture will be established at Zirnhelt Ranch on the western slopes above Opheim Lake, near the community of Big Lake Ranch, BC (roughly an hour drive east from Williams Lake).  The site was harvested of most mature timber four years ago and is currently being used for cattle grazing, providing an opportunity to implement new practices to integrate both timber and forage management.  The silvopasture treatment area will form a grazing unit within a larger managed area. It will be created by brushing and thinning natural forest regeneration into a widely spaced, open forest system with forage production zones between the trees.  The silvopasture will be used to determine the integrated forage and timber production potential, soil moisture response and the economic cost-benefits of an agroforestry approach.  Secondary objectives are to determine the effects of these systems on soil biology and water holding capacity, as drought has become more frequent in the region.

Recently harvested forest in the Beaver Valley will be developed into a silvopasture demonstration area.

Once the silvopasture is established, Zirnhelt Ranch will host a field tour in order to share integrated production principles and the cost-benefit analysis results with Agrologists, Foresters and producers interested in considering alternative land-use options.  A silvopasture workshop will also be held at the site to present and discuss agroforestry design, silvopasture systems and applications, and the potential for expanding this system design to other lands in the region, particularly those inclined to 'brush-in' after logging.

Zirnhelt Ranch is a family-owned and operated ranch located in the Beaver Valley in the Cariboo region.  David and Suzan Zirnhelt and family believe in sustainable food production and use methods that minimize the impact on the natural environment by raising and finishing their beef on pastures and local rangeland, and respecting the natural environment and wildlife.  Equally important to their operation, the family ranch is a place of local employment.  Two of David and Susan's sons operate Zirnhelt Timber Frames, a specialty timber frame building company, also located on the ranch.  The Zirnhelts are interested in integrating forestry practices with livestock grazing in order to diversify their operations and provide multiple commodities to supports both the value-added sale of their beef, as well as the timber frame enterprises.

Learn more about the Zirnhelt Ranch and related businesses at