Conventional pasture needs four times more land to match yield from silvopasture

Silvopasture is a productive agroforestry practice that integrates trees, forage and grazing animals. Its benefits are becoming increasingly discussed and now research has showed that, in terms of net productivity, silvopasture systems can produce four times the amount of food per hectare compared to conventional grazing systems.

US researchers, based at the Universities of Arkansas and Missouri measured the impacts of silvopasture on soil quality, micro-climate, cattle heat stress, forage quality and yield, and cattle weight gain. The results were were then compared with a conventional pasture in the mid-southern US.

The researchers, led by Helen C. S. Amorim at the Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arkansas, recognised that soil–plant–animal health evaluations at the systems level for conventional and silvopastoral environments were lacking and that this presented a challenge in terms of adoption across temperate regions.

Through their research they found that silvopastures have greater soil organic carbon, water content, and overall quality, with lower temperatures (soil and cattle) than conventional pastures.

They said that, “while forage production and cattle weight gains were similar across systems, conventional pasture systems would need approximately four times more land area to yield equivalent net productivity (tree, nuts, forage, and animal weight) of one hectare of silvopasture.”

They also found that temperate silvopastures enhanced the delivery of ecosystem services by improving soil quality and promoting animal welfare without productivity losses.

On Linkedin, Sam Knowlton, Founder and Lead Agronomist at SoilSymbiotics, reflected that the benefits of silvopasture extend well beyond increased productivity.

Commenting on the paper he said, “Conventional pasture systems require four times more land to yield the equivalent net productivity of a temperate silvopasture system. Other benefits of silvopasture include greatly improved soil health, increased water infiltration by as much as 60 times, enhanced animal welfare, up to 0.5 pounds of additional animal weight gain per day, and diversified income from the harvest of fruits, nuts, and timber.”

He continued, “It’s also estimated that silvopasture systems can sequester between 0.5 and 1.9 tons of carbon per year. Globally, there are approximately 300 million hectares of land suitable for silvopasture expansion. Silvopasture is one of the best tools we have for transforming degraded land and revitalising our agricultural system.

In their concluding remarks, the research authors said, “We found that silvopasture creates multifunctional landscapes that enhance the delivery of a range of ecosystem services compared to conventional pastures. The supporting and regulating services, represented by greater soil organic carbon content, higher soil water content, and improved soil quality in the silvopasture underscore the environmental benefits of more complex and diverse systems over monocultures. The potential for carbon sequestration in these systems in both soil and tree biomass suggests it may be a valuable climate change mitigation practice.”

Read the research paper, Temperate silvopastures provide greater ecosystem services than conventional pasture systems

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