ITHACA, N.Y. — Chestnuts and hazelnuts now are grown and processed on a limited scale in New York State, with just over 200 acres planted to these tree crops according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. A new two-year project, “Facilitating the Adoption of Silvopasture and Alley Cropping Production of Nut Crops in New York State,” aims to establish a viable nut growing and processing center in the Finger Lakes that organizers believe will allow for a significant expansion of this acreage, opening the door to new revenue streams for farmers and offering a replicable economic and environmentally sound production model for the Northeast. Partners on the project are Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins), the New York Tree Crops Alliance (NYTCA), Cornell AgriTech, and Khuba International, with funding provided by the Edwards Mother Earth Foundation (EMEF).
Central to the project design is a focus on intercropping the two nut types using established agroforestry practices of silvopasture and alley cropping. Agroforestry is a land use system that pairs trees and/or shrubs with crops and/or livestock that can diversify an existing farm operation and provide substantial environmental benefits.
To expand and sustain tree nut production in the region, the project must ensure that agroforestry systems are financially viable, and markets are developed at a scale with which farmers can engage and prosper. These conditions will be met 1) by providing education and technical support around intercropping for current and prospective nut farmers, including members of BIPOC communities; 2) by developing new value-added nut products and processing options that create market outlets for producers; and 3) by developing financial tools for producers during the period while the trees are maturing.
CCE-Tompkins will lead education and outreach efforts, leveraging funds from EMEF to augment a two-year USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant – also starting in January 2022 – for a survey of chestnut and hazelnut plantings across New York State. The survey will collect successful lines of chestnut and hazelnut and information about planting and management decision-making, in addition to developing outreach and educational materials and holding farmer field days. The EMEF funding will expand the capacity of extension staff so that they can incorporate agroforestry content and technical support into that existing work.
The New York Tree Crops Alliance cooperative will advise on outreach and farmer education and collaborate with Cornell AgriTech on supply chain development. Value-added nut products can yield greater initial returns for cooperative nut growers than bulk sales, and experts at the Cornell Food Venture Center (CFVC) Pilot Plant in Geneva, NY will consult on product formulations, production methods, food safety, and packaging. This research and development in year one will determine types of equipment needed at an interim processing facility in year two and inform purchases for a permanent NYCTA cooperative processing facility. Research also will be shared with other nut co-ops to remove guesswork around buying equipment and provide figures on payback time to support capital financing.
CCE-Tompkins will lead the third component of this project, the development of a pilot Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) program that will incorporate agroforestry practices. By compensating farmers for services like carbon sequestration, enhanced water holding capacity, erosion mitigation and pollination services, PES programs can serve to maintain existing farm revenue on land taken out of annual production for planting to tree nut crops and assist new farmers in bridging the gap between planting and harvesting crops that require six or more years before they yield meaningful financial returns. This effort builds upon work underway at CCE-Tompkins, funding a two-year PES Educator position that will be guided by input from a statewide team of farmers, policymakers and other engaged stakeholders now exploring ongoing mechanisms for financing PES programs.
By the end of year two, “Facilitating the Adoption of Silvopasture and Alley Cropping Production of Nut Crops in New York State” aims to have 100 new or existing farmers adopt agroforestry practices with these nut crops and up to 20 farmers enrolled in a PES program; 1,000 acres of agroforestry plantings established or in the final planning stages; an interim regional nut processing system for NY State and surrounding regions with the ability to incrementally expand capacity as nut production increases; and a growing regional nut cooperative that by year four will have a successful market for chestnut and hazelnuts and be able to offer attractive purchase prices for nuts from farmers. A related economic benefit will be the growth in nut tree sales by regional nurseries going forward.
The project also will yield extremely important environmental benefits by expanding the use of agroforestry practices that limit soil loss and have the potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon in woody biomass and in undisturbed soil. These low intensity nut plantings require limited chemical inputs and will improve downstream water quality and enhance biodiversity both below and above ground. Most importantly, silvopasture and alley cropping are estimated to sequester between 1 and 2 tons of carbon per acre per year in the soil and in living biomass. The project expects to bring about the adoption of these practices on 1,000 acres of perennial nut crops after two years and aspires to 10,000 acres after six years, for an estimated carbon sequestration total of 15 thousand tons per year after 2027. (See ProjectDrawdown.org for estimates of estimated carbon sequestration rates for silvopasture, tree intercropping and perennial staple crops).
For more information about “Facilitating the Adoption of Silvopasture and Alley Cropping Production of Nut Crops in New York State” or the USDA Specialty Crop survey, contact Graham Savio, Agriculture & Horticulture Issue Leader at CCE-Tompkins, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County