Project Plan And Objectives

 

If the potential benefits of woody agriculture are to be realized, farmers must be convinced that they can economically grow the new crops, on land currently used to grow annual crops. The baseline data on actual costs of operation must be gathered in order to know whether a policy of encouraging global development of woody agriculture should be implemented. The project is divided into four phases, the first of which was recently completed and has demonstrated the production potential of hybrid hazelnuts and chestnuts. The second phase is to determine and demonstrate the economic viability of replacing annual agriculture systems with woody crops, and/or integrating woody systems with annual systems. The 3rd phase is to improve and expand the culture, production, and economic appeal of woody agriculture.

The present project is designed to provide the first demonstration of economic feasibility. Simultaneously, we will gather the data on crop establishment costs, harvest costs, and payback time, necessary to provide interested farmers with real-world guidelines for managing commercial scale plantings. In addition, since woody agriculture is an entirely new endeavor, these plantings should be developed as an educational site; designed to attract visitors and illustrate the possibilities and benefits of these crops and planting practices.

Since up until the present woody agriculture research has been limited to small and diverse plantings, to provide us with the basic information about the potentials for these crops, we now face a major hurdle in the necessary change of scale; from hand labor to machines, and from 10 acres to 100 and 1,000 acre plantings.

This particular project involves the establishment of commercial practices and markets for woody agriculture in the USA and developed countries. (Other projects, not outlined here, involve establishing woody agriculture practices in developing countries, using both machine and hand labor methods.) Our plans include specific goals for the next ten years.


PHASE ONE- 1980-1990

 

Phase One was undertaken to demonstrate the basic feasibility of woody agriculture. Data accumulated at Badgersett Research Farm over the past decade is now sufficient to show that basic productivity of woody plants can at least equal that of traditional annual crops. Some of the specific projects:

 

· Acquire appropriate germplasm collections, chestnuts and hazelnuts.

· Establish mass research plantings. 5,000 chestnut and 300 hazelnut seedlings.

· Experimentally develop basic fertility requirements.

· Precisely monitor and record health and seed production for individual plants.

· Data analysis- all production records have been computerized for clear comparisons

· Select first generation of appropriate cultivars, cull poor performers.

· Begin planting second research generation. 2,000 chestnut, 3,000 hazelnut seedlings.

· Begin controlled hybridization program using best selections as parents.


 

PHASE TWO- 5 Years

 

1. Enlarge present plantings at Badgersett Research Farm, to enable testing and demonstration of machine harvest techniques.

Plantings of bush hazelnuts will be made in such a fashion that they will be amenable to harvest by machines similar to those currently used to harvest blueberries. These machines are manufactured by BEI Incorporated, of South Haven, Michigan. This company has stated their interest in adapting their present line of machines for our hazelnuts, and their willingness to invest their time and money in the development work, as soon as we can provide them with sufficient fields. At a minimum, 2 acres of new plantings will be required, with 4- 6 acres being preferred.

The plantings will be made using seedling material, which will be too variable for normal commercial purposes, but which will serve very well to teach us what factors are important in mechanized harvest of this crop. We expect that some bushes will be easily harvested by the machine, and others will not: this will be of benefit in developing future cultivars for true commercial plantings.

In order to bring the plantings into production as soon as possible, and in order to provide meaningful data on potential, it will be necessary to provide rigorous protection of seedlings from deer. This will include some experimentation, and evaluation of methods for future adaptation.

Data will be taken on various methods of plantation establishment and growth, by both Badgersett and UM personnel.

 

2. Establish demonstration "windbreak orchards" at several locations.

Using woody agriculture plantings as windbreaks for traditional fields is seen as a particularly beneficial method of introducing farmers to these crops and integrating them into annual agriculture systems. Windbreaks of any kind are of great value in reducing wind and water erosion, but frequently farmers see establishment and maintenance of windbreaks as costly and inconvenient. Bush hazelnuts are ideal windbreak plants, differing from traditional windbreaks in that they will produce a salable crop. Farmers who are unwilling to plant windbreaks may be convinced to do so if they know the effort may be profitable. Initially, farmers with single row windbreaks could realize a profit by having their crop custom harvested, so they would not need to own the harvest machinery. If the hazels prove truly profitable, the farmers will be well positioned to gradually expand their woody agriculture acreage.

 

3. Establish a nursery to provide greatly increased production of planting stock.

Planting on a commercial scale will require about 1,000 plants per acre; present production of suitable planting stock is limited to only 2,000 plants per year. In order to move to commercial operation, we need to be able to produce at least 10,000 plants per year for our own use.

In addition, demand for our hazelnut and chestnut seedlings is very high; we estimate that we could sell 20-40,000 per year without advertising. This would be very desirable for developing woody agriculture, since farmers would be establishing small plantings immediately; both familiarizing themselves with the requirements of the crop and with the marketing required.

It is also our goal to use profits from nursery stock to fund continuing woody agriculture research at Badgersett Research Farm.

 

4. Conduct research on asexual (clonal) propagation of desirable cultivars.

Real full scale implementation of woody agriculture will require uniform, clonal plantings, which can be efficiently machine harvested. This means producing millions of clonal plants each year. By far the most economical means to this end is tissue culture propagation.

We have already participated in preliminary investigations on tissue culture of hazelnuts and chestnuts, with encouraging results. However, much research will be required before commercial production of plants from tissue culture can begin. Presently, Dr. Paul Read, Head of Horticulture, University of Nebraska, is working with clonal materials from Badgersett hazelnuts and chestnuts, with minimal funding. We intend to increase funding for this aspect of the project in the next few years.

Traditional forms of clonal propagation are also under investigation. Grafting of Badgersett chestnut clones is being undertaken by Prof. Huang Hong-Wen, Visiting Professor of Horticulture at Auburn University, Alabama.

Construction of a small research greenhouse at Badgersett will be undertaken this year, to enable us to pursue development of intermediate methods of clonal increase, for both research requirements and commercial development.

 

5. Identify and breed additional hazelnut and chestnut cultivars suited to woody agriculture methods.

While hazelnut cultivars adaptable to woody agriculture and sufficiently productive for commercialization have been selected, it is clear that much better cultivars can be created, and are within relatively easy grasp. Chestnut cultivars are not yet adequately tested, but promising candidates are under examination.

Additional large plantings of seedlings will be made, and screened for superior clones. These seedlings will be generated at Badgersett, and will consist both of open-pollinated multi-species hybrids, and controlled crosses. Planting, maintenance, and data taking will require additional personnel. Extensive databases are kept, recording and comparing performance of candidate clones on 15 or more parameters, including vegetative health, nut characters, crop production, and pest resistance.

 

6. Expand germplasm collection to provide larger genetic base for crops.

 

Badgersett Research Farm currently has one of the largest and most inclusive research collections of chestnut species germplasm in the world. Collections of hazelnut germplasm are more limited, and specialized in material suitable to the Great Plains. For future needs, the working collections need to be expanded to include species and varieties adapted to more circumstances. For example, it is likely that hazels adapted to very wet soils can be found in North America. This would be a most useful character, as such bushes could be planted in soils subject to periodic flooding or soils that otherwise would require draining. Agricultural drainage, of course contributes to accelerated runoff, flooding, and the degradation of wetlands. Other reasons for seeking new germplasm also exist, including genetic resistance to insect pests or other climates.

Collection trips will be made, and the assembled germplasm evaluated for appropriate characteristics.

 

PHASE TWO - EDUCATIONAL PROJECTS

 

· Public Education Projects at Badgersett

 

As a public relations and marketing project, Badgersett Research Farm will begin this year to plant a large hazel bush "maze", similar to the traditional hedge mazes of Europe and Colonial America.

The maze will be large enough to require some effort to solve it, and will be promoted as a visitor's attraction, for both children and adults. During the hazel harvest season, it will be open to visitors, and they will be encouraged to "pick their own" nuts. There will be picnic tables inside the maze for those who wish to stay longer periods of time. Initial market evaluation indicates this should effectively draw the public, and stimulate interest in hazelnuts, woody agriculture, and nut products. The public will also have the opportunity to examine the other plantings at Badgersett, and tours will explain the research in progress.

 

· Science Education

For several years Badgersett Research Farm has been training one student per year in woody agriculture theory and practice. We intend to increase the number of students, as soon as funding can be found to provide housing for them. The ultimate goal is to train 5-8 advanced undergraduates and 1-3 graduate students per year, through internships and research fellowships at Badgersett.

When facilities and plantings permit, short courses in woody agriculture will be offered to scientific and agricultural professionals.

 

PHASE TWO - EVALUATION

 

· Evaluation of Research and Commercial Projects.

Besides constant internal evaluation of the projects, professional research papers will be published in appropriate scientific journals, to subject the work to peer review. Commercial projects will ultimately be evaluated economically.


 

PHASE THREE- The Next 5 Years

 

Since this phase of the project is not involved in the present grant request, only a brief outline is provided here.

 

· Enlarge plantings to full commercial scale.

· Develop post-harvest handling and storage techniques for improved simplicity.

· Establish commercial scale tissue culture propagation for planting stock.

· Marketing- initial sales of product to existing markets.

· Develop additional markets and value-added products.

· Foster industrial interest in crops as industrial feed-stocks.

· Replicate Badgersett Research Farm demonstrations in other regions of USA.

· Keep the data on cultural requirements of crops- spacing, plantings, fertilizer,

micronutrient reqirements, pest problems,

· Make a profit on the crops and value-added products.

 

 

PHASE FOUR- Beyond the Next 10 Years

 

· Develop other woody plant species to produce other commodities in this fashion;

specialized cultivars for swampy lands, desert, brackish, etc.

· Expand plantings and industrial uses of products

 

 

Continued Funding

 

If woody agriculture is to develop as rapidly as possible, it will be necessary to expand funding in many ways. So far as this particular project is concerned, it is our stated goal to demonstrate commercial feasibility; thus it is our expectation that the work will become self funding. Funds for research will also be generated through sales of nursery stock for woody agriculture plantings, and possibly through licensing production of patented varieties. In the short term, research grants will be sought through any agencies providing funds for alternative agriculture, forestry, horticulture, conservation, global warming, or economic development.

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