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Sustainable Agriculture

Wood Products Open Up Specialty Markets for Farmers

Farmers on the windy Plains who plant trees as buffers and windbreaks can realize a profit as part of their conservation efforts—and many are starting to explore the options, thanks to Scott Josiah, a state extension forester at the University of Nebraska. With a SARE grant, Josiah gathered a wealth of information about the profit-making potential of trees on farms and taught farmers about how to grow and market new products like berries, nuts, and woody florals in conservation plantings.

“Instead of considering a windbreak or streamside buffer strip as land taken out of production, why not make it a new profit center?” Josiah said.

Josiah’s data, from a survey of SARE producer grant recipients and others, literature searches, and six field trials throughout Nebraska, feeds a website featuring a financial analysis tool and marketing information.

Market research showed the floral industry to be a $20 million outlet, mainly eye-catching stems from trees and shrubs planted in rows that bring as much as $5 per linear foot. “Someone is already providing products to these markets, we just have to compete on a different level, with superior quality,” Josiah said. Likewise, nuts can bring high returns, especially hybrid hazel-nuts for the confection industry.

Growers flocked to workshops and trainings featuring production, harvest, and post-harvest handling strategies. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, NE, learned which plants to grow and how to market them, part of an effort to diversify his 160-acre farm. Today, Bostelman harvests willow and dogwood stems and sells them to wholesalers with farmers who met during the project and formed a cooperative to process and market their products.

“Without his [Josiah’s] research and everything he’s done in woody floral development, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Bostelman, who also raises small fruit for wineries and has started a nut orchard.

A forest products workshop coordinated by the Arbor Day Foundation and supported by a SARE professional development grant drew 70 extension educators and natural resource professionals from 12 states. The most visual aspect of the 2-day workshop was a hazelnut harvest on the Arbor Day Farm. Participants also learned more about incorporating specialty woody crops into conservation strategies such as living snow fences and stream bank buffers.

 

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