Friday, July 20, 2012

New Research Will Determine Best Practices for Christmas Tree Production in Silvopastures

Research and many years of practical experience have shown that Christmas-tree management in silvopasture settings is compatible with achieving multiple values to the benefit of industry and conservation goals.  With funding from the BC Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative (AIDI), Kootenay Tree Farms will work on refining silvopasture techniques for enhanced production of forages for both wildlife and cattle, and, tree management for rhabdocline (Rhabdocline pseudotsugae) disease control.

Christmas tree management in silvopastures can benefit understory forage and reduce disease
The production model which Kootenay Tree Farms has evolved is based on years of practice in the East Kootenay region, and is rooted in the philosophy of ‘doing it the best way for the greatest return’.  Underlying this management concept is a goal of providing small-scale agroforestry management options to producers which enhance producer and ecological sustainability, while complementing larger landscape-level management strategies.  Managed within a silvopasture scenario, previous demonstration work and operational experience provide good indications of the potential increases in available forage, concomitant with Christmas tree management through pruning and fertilization.  Likewise, it is known that livestock in silvopastures are an important contributor to Christmas tree production by means of controlling competing vegetation.  Christmas tree silvopastures have the potential to enhance areas wildlife and livestock on public lands within the region, plus contributing to other values, while the costs can be maintained by the Christmas tree permittee.

The new work will compare forage production at two sites incorporating differing treatment combinations of fertilization, pruning and forage composition.  The project is located on a stump-culture native-stand Christmas tree production area on a BC Hydro transmission line right of way (ROW).  Kootenay Tree Farms has been operating this management area in conjunction with BC Hydro for over 20 years.  Christmas trees produced on site are predominantly Douglas fir and the whole tree farm is just under 400 ha.  The demonstration will utilize five, 2 ha blocks of the Christmas tree production area, descending in elevation and separated by other operational Christmas-tree production areas.  Each block will include the following three treatments:
  1. Pruned, spaced and fertilized - with domestic forage in the understory;
  2. Pruned, spaced and fertilized - with native grasses/forages in the understory;
  3. Unpruned, unspaced and unfertilized – with domestic forages in the understory. 
Productivity and species composition of both domestic and native grasses will be estimated and the Christmas trees will be monitored via a rating system for the occurrence of rhabdocline disease and response to pruning and elevational position (onset of bud break via temperature relationships).  The Christmas trees will also be evaluated for variables which impact their marketability including form, colour and needle/branch density.

A production system cost-benefit analysis will be developed based on the project results and regional production and market information for a communication fact sheet.  And Kootenay Tree Farms will also work with the Christmas tree, range management and wildlife organizations by sharing information and inviting members to field workshops.

Kootenay Tree Farms, of Cranbook, has been in business for over 25 years producing native-stand Christmas trees on both a BC Hydro right-of-way (under a lease agreement) and a -permit area on Crown land.  Christmas trees have been the focus of production however, Kootenay Tree Farms also has experience diversifying production through related products such as boughs, wreathes and garlands.

For more information on silvopasture management using Christmas trees please see AIDI Extension Note 3.