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Cornell University hosted the fifth North American Agroforestry Conference August 3-6. Over 115 participants from throughout the US and Canada, plus several overseas countries, attended the conference at Ithaca, New York.

Titled “Exploring the Opportunities for Agroforestry in Changing Rural Landscapes,” the meeting was sponsored by the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science, including the Department of Natural Resources and Cornell Agroforestry Working Group. Co-sponsors included AFTA, USDA National Agroforestry Center, and the IUFRO Temperate Agroforestry Working Party. The principal organizers at Cornell were Jim Lassoie, Louise Buck, Barbara Cliff and Danica Merideth.

 

Keynote Addresses

Two keynote speakers opened the conference on Monday, Aug. 4: Fee Busby, NRCS Deputy Chief of Science and Technology, and Rob Myers, Program Leader of the Jefferson Initiative on Crop Diversification.

In his talk titled “Agroforestry: Get Real,” Fee Busby explored three themes related to the future of agroforestry in the US. He cautioned against wasting time by “preaching to the choir” or “planning to plan,” admonishing his listeners to form a critical mass of people, effort and budget that will support agroforestry. He posed a basic question that must be addressed, “Who knows (about agroforestry), who cares, and so what?”

Busby said that “we should be careful what we ask for, we might get it.” As an example of the intentional and unintentional results of success, he cited the increased opportunities for government cost share funding to support some agroforestry practices through the EQIP program, and the continuous sign-up provisions of CRP. However, the time required to administer these programs has left NRCS staff with little time for planning and coordination with other agencies on the larger issues of resource conservation.

Busby’s last point was that agroforestry mirrors the goal of thinking globally and acting locally, by combining both long-term (timber) and short-term (crops and livestock) outputs. He stressed the importance of marketing, saying that agroforestry enterprises will succeed by producing saleable products, not by relying on government incentives.

Rob Myers offered a USDA perspective on the relationship between sustainable agriculture and agroforestry. He listed a variety of public funding sources that are available to support agroforestry research and development, including the Fund for Rural America and the National Research Initiative. Myers believes that one way to overcome the general lack of understanding about agroforestry is to focus on the needs it addresses in common with sustainable agriculture, which has widespread support. Those common aims include species diversity, wildlife habitat, soil and water protection, beneficial insect habitat, and farmer-based marketing. The notion among many farmers that, outside the homestead, trees are “in the way” should be overcome, he said.

 

Proceedings

More than 45 papers were delivered during 14 concurrent sessions at the conference. The proceedings to be published by Cornell will include all papers submitted for publication, along with abstracts of the 13 posters displayed during the poster session and summaries of two concurrent discussion panels on research and marketing. Final drafts of the papers are due in early November, and the proceedings will be available in 1998.

Some of the conference papers will be selected for peer review and publication in a special issue of the journal, Agroforestry Systems. Jim Lassoie will be editor of both the proceedings and the special issue of Agroforestry Systems, with the assistance of Louise Buck and Danica Merideth.

 

Field Tours

During the second day of the conference, participants had the opportunity to view agroforestry research and on-farm implementation during two fullday field trips. While the tours followed separate itineraries, both shared several stops in common. Both tours started at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market, since it is an important sales outlet for several of the private landowners on the tour who market products from their agroforestry practices, and visited the Arnot Forest to learn about Cornell’s ginseng research program (see separate story).

One such landowner featured on the tour was Brian Caldwell, a Cooperative Extension agent who markets certified-organic vegetables, apples, nuts and sheep produced from an alley cropping system on his own farm. Caldwell has experimented with numerous cultivars of chestnuts and other nut trees, and is currently producing vegetable crops interplanted in an orchard of the five most successful chestnut varieties. Six sheep are grazed using portable electric fencing.

Another producer who relies on direct marketing is Karl North, whose Northland Sheep Dairy was visited on the field tour. North grazes sheep in a old apple orchard, and markets his products (specialty cheeses, milk, meat, yarn, sheepskins and apple cider) through the Ithaca Farmers’ Market.

Commercial biomass production was the subject of a visit to the State University of New York’s willow biomass research plots at Tully, NY. The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry is one of the lead agencies in the Salix Consortium, a collaborative group involving several commercial power companies that is working to demonstrate the feasibility of power generation using intensively-farmed willow and poplar. The Tully research site includes screening trials of over 300 clones of willow, and block plantings using the “ Swedish double row” system to demonstrate management and harvesting of willows under commercial-scale conditions.

 

Closing and Awards Ceremony

The closing luncheon in the historic Willard Straight Memorial Room at Cornell featured a summary speech by Bill Rietveld, Program Manager of the National Agroforestry Center, and a video address by Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri.

In his closing remarks, Rietveld addressed the question of how to make agroforestry practices more adoptable. To gain wider acceptance, he said that agroforestry must be economically viable and produce high value specialty products in a way that also benefits resource conservation. This will in turn depend on greater participation by the larger agricultural community in both research and educational efforts, he said.

Although his schedule would not permit a personal appearance, Senator Bond addressed the conference by video tape. In his introduction to the tape, AFTA President Gene Garrett recalled the reaction of Senator Bond following his visit to the Sho-Neff plantation in Stockton, Missouri where black walnut agroforestry is practiced: “I think I have seen the forestry of the future.” Senator Bond, in his video address, said that agroforestry is a “win-win” approach to sustainable agriculture that benefits landowners, taxpayers and the environment. He detailed his support for federal funding of agroforestry research and demonstration projects in Missouri, and said that these deserve expansion to neighboring states.

At the conclusion of the luncheon, several awards were given. The Guelph-Wellington Award for best graduate student presentations at the North American Agroforestry Conference is funded through the generous contribution of Mr. Phil Gosling. This year’s recipients of a certificate and check for $250 each were Dean Gray and Jeff Lehmkuhler, both University of Missouri; Jim Chamberlain, Virginia Polytechnic Institute; and Gordon Price, University of Guelph.

A new award was also presented for the first time at this conference, the Terry Johnson Agroforestry Award. Given in memoriam of the late Terry Johnson, a strong advocate of agroforestry within USDA, and funded by NRCS, USFS and the National Woodland Owners Association, the award is given in recognition of outstanding service by a resource professional related to agroforestry. The award was presented to Bill Rietveld of the National Agroforestry Center.

All those present showed their sincere thanks and appreciation with a standing ovation to all the conference organizers for a very successful conference.

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