Silvopasture could save the world

If you really want to save the world from climate disaster, consider raising cattle and trees together. Combined, they can sequester more carbon than any other agricultural system.
The problem is that cattle and trees, when unmanaged, can overrun and destroy a farming system almost as totally as monocultures of annual crops like soybeans and corn.
Silvopasture is the integration of trees, livestock, and crops together on the same land to build soil quality, sequester carbon and create diversified income sources from timber, livestock, and annual crops.  Though the term may be new to you, the concept is old.  Once all farms combined livestock, trees and annual crops. Then specialization became the rage.
Today, if you graze livestock and have wooded or semi-wooded land on your property, silvopasture may be something that could benefit your operation.
In recent years there has been more interest in these types of systems. Increasing land costs and the need to generate more income from an acre of land is one of the reasons for this interest. Other factors include an increased interest in ecologically integrated systems within agriculture.
Grazing livestock in wooded areas was once very common wherever there were trees in the US. Lack of management of livestock grazing in woods eventually caused foresters and conservationists to recommend keeping animals out of wooded areas. Cattle can cause damage including soil compaction, poor regeneration of woodland species, and damage to valuable trees.  Sheep and goats can do even more damage if not properly managed.

Today we have much better fencing equipment and materials to work with than our ancestors did. Some of us also have more knowledge about managing forages, trees, and livestock. With care and intensive management, we can create and manage a silvopasture system that is resilient, productive, and profitable.  However, silvopasture systems will not work for the average weekend farmer or part-time farmer with a small herd of cattle and some woods but a full-time job elsewhere.  You have to pay attention to your system at least daily.

The benefits of well managed silvopasture systems are plenty.  Shade alone can improve weight gain, milk production, and conception rates.  Silvopasture systems can provide shade without creating heavy use areas that concentrate manure deposition and create more fly issues.If you are interested in silvopasturing you need to start with the right location. Land with adequate water available and gentle terrain works the best. It is best to avoid  wetlands.  Degraded hillsides which have been subject to too many years of row crops are some of the best places to try silvopasture systems.

To be successful at silvopasturing and not destroy your land, you need to have better than average knowledge of both silvoculture and grazing.  Do your research first.

  • Look for on-line resources. There are a number of temperate agroforestry sites with good articles and information on silvopasturing, though much of the information will need to be extrapolated to your own situation. The “Guide to Silvopasturing in the Northeast” and other silvopasture resources are currently available under the “publications” section of
  • Develop woodlot management and animal husbandry skills, and then gradually look for ways to symbiotically combine the two systems in a context appropriate for your own property.
  • Seek out local silvopasture practitioners to see what has worked for them. To ask questions and share experiences with silvopasturing, visit:
  • Work with a forester who is willing to help you learn and experiment. Expect some resistance at first when you mention the word “silvopasturing”, but foresters are trained to achieve landowner goals. They may lack the knowledge on the livestock side of the equation, but their expertise in vegetation and forest management will be invaluable.

Just couple more references to get you started:

Silvopasture in the Southern US:

Distorting resilience for fund-raising

Anyone who  travels much in Africa can find evidence of many well-meaning charities trying to save various species.  In September in Malawi at the Kasungu National Park.  We watched about 50 elephants drinking and cavorting in a lake with some rich folks from Connecticut.  They appear to be failing in their efforts since elephant numbers are dropping, no lion has been sighted in months and water buffalo were not visiting the only body of water in the park.

elephants-getty-440672Yet they were trying to figure out how much to pay the guards who were failing to stop poaching.

One other guest was a French engineer on a day trip from the capitol, Lilongwe.  He decided to pay for a guided tour conducted by an AK-47 toting guide.  The tour resulted in nothing more than we saw sitting at the park restaurant and looking across the lake.

Organizations like World Wildlife Fund attract millions in donations, but are failing in their mission, which means they raise more money because of the increasingly dire situation of wild African animals.

Even though they are failing in their mission, people like WF International Director General Marco Lambertini assert,”We have proven that we know what it takes to build a resilient planet for future generations, we just need to act on that knowledge.”

Such chutzpah.  They want us to believe they know how to do it and just need our money so they can.  If they knew how to do it, they would have proof their methods succeed.  All available data indicates their methods are failing.  Just one trip to Africa will show you that.  My to 11 African countries have proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt.  WWF and allied organizations do know how to spend and raise money.  I’d love to see just one study showing that they are succeeding.  The planet needs for them to succeed, but their focus is raising money, not understanding and improving resilience.


But agreeing with that statement is a far cry from agreeing with WWF that they show they know how to increase ecological resilience.

See if you agree by reading the recent WWF Living Planet Report 2016: Risk and resilience in a new era at:

Politics: we need a good hard winter

A cold wind is blowing through our part of the world.  Many of us are looking forward to it.  The organic cotton growers need a good freeze to knock off the leaves so they can harvest their crop.  Vegetable growers need a good freeze to knock back the pests.

russian_winter_in_arzamasYou could look at yesterday’s election results as just another hard frost.  Sure winter is tough, but if you are organized and prepare for it, it can bring lots of benefits.  Now we don’t want a hard Russian or Minnesota winter.  Eight months of cold and snow don’t appeal to us Southerners.  But you play the cards you are dealt.  The Russians used one winter to beat Napoleon.  Minnesotans love hockey and ice-fishing.

Cold weather does keep the riff-raff out.  They just don’t survive a bad winter.  In Russia, the spring thaw always reveals people who went out drinking and ended up frozen in a snow drift and covered with snow.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I” is one response to hearing such news.  Another is: you gotta pay the piper.  The way you live will result in the punishment or reward you deserve.  If things aren’t working out, don’t blame others.  Look at your life and see what needs to be changed.

The trouble with all these platitudes is that they are all wrong.  They are true in some instances and not in others.  Bad things do happen to good people.  But resilient people, just like other resilient systems, have the ability to embrace bad events and change so such don’t occur in the future.

If you don’t like the results of the election you can blame ignorance or prejudice or foreign manipulation or a myriad of other external causes.  But that won’t help you cope with the change.  You know all the lobbyists in DC are rushing to figure out how to adapt to this change so they can profit from it.  Many financial managers will wait till the stock market gets real low and then buy as much as they can because it will go back up.

It’s just winter, that’s all.  It happens and you have to deal with it.  The good thing about winter is that it is somewhat predictable.  You know its going to happen every year.  This election was a little less predictable, but strange elections do happen now and then.  Resilient people cope, adapt and move on.

I hope you are one of the resilient.

Breakfast with an Osage/Creek physician

Today I had breakfast with an Osage/Creek physician who grew up in Tulsa, but lives in Shawnee, OK, now.  We had a good talk about my friend who is a Tohono O’odham from near Tucson.  Reminded me of a great article I just read that you might like too.


Native people know how to cooperate in community. It’s silent, it’s unspoken, but it is known and known implicitly by everyone. I see that as the Christ energy in expression. Not as a thought or a feeling, but in action. That’s it for sure. I could see it once again as I sat among the people. The Christ spirit lives in the ethers – the biosphere – as it circulates among people and the natural world.

Matthew (18:19-20) “…if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them…For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Native people know already that the spirit lives in the land and in their relationships with one another. As part of their way, for thousands of years they have had the understanding of spirit life on a practical level.

There’s a western axiom that ‘the map is not the territory.’ But that’s not so in traditional Native contexts. The land itself is the map and that land map is also indivisibly the territory wherein life unfolds. Physicality and spirituality are not separated by concepts or perceptions, to be worshiped in a metaphysical superstructure high off the ground, but are appreciated as one interpenetrating and mutually revealing reality. Native people have the land as source of spirituality and as the reference point for their spiritual lives.

Progressive is bad? Resilience in the High Plains

Yesterday, on a rooftop terrace in Seminole, Texas, near the New Mexico border, I heard four young men speaking a  strange German dialect.  They are some of the Mennonites who are reviving the town.  They are blonde immigrants from Mexico who began arriving about ten years ago and now are a quarter of the population.  One resident told us there are 18 Mennonite churches in the town of less than 8000 people.  All continue their services in low German.  The biggest also has services in English, though the German service is more popular.

caprock-in-texasWe’d come to Seminole in Gaines County to learn about how the Mennonites are transforming the organic peanut/wheat rotation system.  Arrowhead Mills chief buyer had told us that nearly all of his organic wheat is now obtained in this county.  Farmers here have discovered that wheat makes a good rotation for peanuts in an organic system.  The conservative Mennonites are innovative.

By all reports, Seminole was dying until the Mennonites started moving in.  Mennonites, with their conservative ways, are everywhere growing in population and wealth.  They are resilient and successful wherever they go.

We’ve been pretty successful on this trip too.  We brought rain.  The Extension agent in Deaf Smith County gave us credit for bringing rain to the High Plains of Texas.

We didn’t manage the feat immediately.  It was unseasonably hot and dry during the ten hours it took to drive from Little Rock to the High Plains of Texas.  The dusty, semi-arid plains on the drive were reflected in lawns barren of anything but a few weeds when the GPS took us to a transmission repair shop in a poor neighborhood with boarded up houses.

But we’d plugged in the wrong address and when we changed the address to 1500 from 500 we found ourselves on millionaire’s row.  Lush green lawns and huge houses, many with walls around them.  Amongst them is our Zen Cowboy House. Two huge Chinese lions stood beside the entrance and in the walled back yard was an Oriental garden with Buddhist statues and a waterfall.

The first night the weather broke and turned cold.  We bundled up and headed to Palo Duro Canyon–the Grand Canyon of Texas.  I hadn’t been there in almost 50 years and development had taken its toll.  However, the addition of dozens of structures, a paved road and hundreds of tourists detracted little from the rushing water, caves and cliffs.

We didn’t get much rain that first day, but ever since the rain has been our daily companion as we explore the High Plains of Texas.  The people we’ve met are happy we brought rain and even happier to help us explore resilience in their agricultural systems.

After our day of tourism to recoup from our long drive, we stepped out of the Zen Cowboy house to head to our first interview and were immediately greeted by the smell of manure.  The Southwest winds bring the smell of beef and dairy feedlots up from Hereford.  More than 30% of the beef produced in the United States comes from the High Plains.  Dairies are moving in from California and the Netherlands to escape regulation.  Huge confinement facilities generate lots of industrial meat and milk and contribute to the lack of resilience and sustainability of most of the High Plains.

Our focus is the few counties in the region which have bucked the trend.  Potter County, whose county seat is Amarillo, is one.  Amarillo prides itself on support of local businesses.  Chipotle came to town and had to close down because people liked their local Sharkey’s.  Most of the businesses sport names you don’t see in the rest of the US.  United is a local chain of grocery stores which buys local produce and features local farmers at point of purchase displays.  Toot’n Totum, founded in Amarillo, dominates the convenience stores/gas station sector, just as Stripes, founded in Lubbock, dominates that town.

As in all resilient systems, locally self-organized systems predominate.

Another very sustainable and resilient county, Borden,  at first glance appears totally different from Amarillo and Potter County.  It doesn’t even have a gas station.  It has just two restaurants and no other retail shops.  The county agent there told us the locals don’t want outside businesses to come in.  They like their county the way it is.  They are conservative

A 4000 acre organic cotton grower in the county put it this way: progressive is bad, conservative is good.  You don’t want to be the lead cow, the first one to adopt a new practice.  You want to be about the third cow back.  Resilient farmers are innovative, but in a conservative fashion.  The keep tried and true practices but are very quick to adopt innovations when they see they work.

It’s hard for those of us in sustainable agriculture to say progressive is bad because many of the folks who support sustainable and organic agricultural systems consider themselves progressive.  Unfortunately, resilient systems don’t fit neatly in the progressive mold.