Overstory #112 - Farm Forestry Extension
The infinite possibilities inherent in farm forestry, and the wide variation in farmers' needs, resources and aspirations mean that there are no 'best-bet' species, spatial arrangements or management 'recipes' suited to more than a few growers within a region. This suggests that rather than promoting particular options, the objective of farm forestry extension should be to enable farmers and other stakeholders to play an active role in the development of options that best meet their own interests and resources.
Most definitions of farm forestry focus on what the forests look like or their purpose. This has led to widespread acceptance of the notion that farm forestry is part of a continuum from large-scale monoculture plantations down to small-scale plantings. From this perspective it is easy to lose sight of what makes farm forestry unique and the need to develop specially targeted research and extension programs for this sector (Alexandra and Hall 1998). Our working definition of farm forestry emphasises the decision maker rather than the outcome: Farm forestry is the commitment of resources by farmers, alone or in partnerships, to the establishment or management of forests on their land. What clearly distinguishes a 'farm forest' or 'agroforest' from a corporate, industrial or government forest is not scale, it is ownership. Not just ownership of the land or the trees, but ownership of the decision whether or not to carry out the project, and how. Farm forestry and agroforestry are therefore about choice: farmers choosing to commit their resources to the development and management of forests for, amongst other things, commercial return.
Farmers establish and manage their forests for any combination of benefits. They may place an emphasis on a single outcome, such as timber production or biodiversity, or they may seek to balance a range of benefits in a multipurpose planting. Their priorities may vary over the farm and change over time. A forest initially established or managed for wildlife or land protection might later be harvested for timber or valued for its beauty. Forests on farms may increase agricultural production or simply displace it. They might be sustainable, even improve economic, social and environmental capital, or they may deplete these assets. The farmer, or their partners, may profit from farm forestry or come to regret their involvement. Farm forestry is different because farmers (non-industrial, non-corporate private landowners) are different.
Research and extension
Farm forestry research and extension becomes a process of change through "facilitating social learning" (King 2000) which encourages farmers, communities, industry and governments to clearly define their own interests and expectations and to acknowledge where the costs and benefits lie. Rather than simply trying to get farmers to grow forests specially designed to solve the problems that outsiders perceive as critical, the aim is to empower communities to the point that they are able to articulate, design and implement forestry practices that best meet their needs. The degree to which the outcome of such a process will also meet the needs or interests of particular industry sectors, governments agencies or conservation groups will largely depend on the degree to which there are shared goals, a capacity and willingness amongst farmers to act, adequate rewards for farmers who do provide the services or products sought by others, and the degree to which penalties are imposed for non-compliance.
Fit forestry into the existing farming culture
Rather than try to mould farmers into the dominant forestry culture the real challenge lies in fitting forestry into a farming culture and helping farmers identify opportunities to use trees and forests to express their own attitudes and aspirations. Farming cultures vary and reflect the shared ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge within the rural communities thus forming the basis of social action and response. Cultures are dynamic but only change slowly with the passage of time, changing circumstances and changes in the population. In any event, to suggest we need to change farmer attitudes implies that their existing attitudes are inappropriate or illegitimate - a morally questionable starting point.
Although attitudes are difficult to measure or describe, behaviour might be seen as an expression of an individual's attitudes and beliefs within the context of existing knowledge, resources, opportunities and threats. The reluctance of farmers to invest in production-focused farm forestry options could be seen as an expression of their broader social, environmental and economics interests and their judicious wish to reduce risk and retain management flexibility. Rejection of profitable options or an unwillingness to manage an established forest does not necessary mean that farmers are "irrational".
Neither should we assume that farmers do not have long-term goals. To the contrary, their long-term aspirations provide a basis for short term decision making. Landowners commonly talk of passing the farm onto future generations in a better state, not exposing the farm to unnecessary risk, protecting and enhancing the productive value of the property and increasing property value (Rickenbach et al 1998, Francis 2000). Forestry is clearly a powerful and useful tool that farmers and rural communities can use to achieve these goals and express their own cultures. Is it not easier to "go with the flow" and allow these honourable environmental and social imperatives to drive revegetation than to continue to argue that good forestry requires a timber focus and a profitable DCF analysis?
Capitalise on farmers' comparative advantage
Farmers, especially where they are involved in alternative enterprises, are able to capture a wider range of non-timber values than those usually available to industrial growers or even off-farm investors. They may be able to take advantage of environmental grants, existing farm machinery and possibly even idle labour to establish and manage of plantations. As farmers, they are also in a position to realise the shelter, land protection and wildlife benefits of well-designed plantations. Those living on the farm are also able to enjoy the landscape values "unseen" by corporate investors and their shareholders.
Rather than viewing these non-timber values as further reason why farmers should be interested in best-bet forestry production regimes (Grist and Burns, 2000) the real opportunity lies in assisting farmers to select and design forestry projects that focus on them realising the easily captured, short-term values. For many farmers the motivation, resources and enthusiasm to grow trees for these values already exists (Wilson et al 1995). Further encouragement and financial support may come from communities "paying" landowners for the off-site environmental values that their forests offer as proposed in the Australian government's discussion paper on Managing Natural Resources (AFFA 1999).
Some are threatened by the devaluation of timber from its status as the primary focus of forestry. If farmers are able to justify the establishment and management of trees on the basis of their short-term non-timber values, then whether or not timber is the primary goal or is able to provide a real return on investment is not important.
Aim for a forest that is viable to harvest?
Where shelter, land protection, wildlife or other non-wood values are seen as significant benefits of a growing forest it could be assumed that landowners will only consider harvesting if the return from timber covers both the costs of harvesting and compensation for the loss of non-timber values. This would suggest that as farmers place increasing emphasis on the non-timber values of forests buyers may need to pay more, not less, for the timber in order to encourage them to harvest (Dole 1993). It also suggests that the farmers are unlikely to specially design and manage their forests in order to increase the future timber value (economic rational behaviour) unless this also complements short-term non-timber values.
The protection of non-wood values might also be expected to dissuade farmers from clearfelling large areas for timber. As a result, the costs of harvesting and marketing the timber from these forests might be expected to be greater than in timber-focused plantations thereby adding to the price the landowner must receive in order to justify harvesting. In any event, any economies achieved in harvesting might be expected to be lost in the need to compensate farmers for the loss of non-wood values. This suggests that the potential for farm forestry to produce timber for industry depends on farmers achieving high standing log values and having access to appropriate scale harvesting and marketing procedures.
Whether landowner's reluctance to harvest means that log prices will need to be higher for multipurpose forestry than those sufficient to drive investment in timber-only plantations is not clear. What is certain is that those factors that commonly threaten the economic viability of timber-focused plantation options, namely rotation length and site productivity, will not necessarily be the major determinants of the viability of multipurpose farm forestry. The decision to plant or manage forests on farms is likely to be justified by the non-wood values alone, whether the forests ever contributes to the country's timber supply will largely depend on whether the forest is "viable to harvest". The current approach to identifying farm forestry options is based on whether the future returns make it "viable to plant" - the result being regimes that are of little or no benefit to farmers.
Actions that may facilitate spontaneous farm forestry development
No longer need farm forestry research and development battle against the obvious economic impediments and disadvantages facing farmers as they compete to grow full cost recovery production-focused regimes. No longer will extension program focus on the questionable task of trying to change attitudes and cultures. Neither do we have any justification to ignore the prospects of growing timber in areas considered too dry, too isolated or too small for "profitable" forestry.
The following are some examples of the types of practical research and development projects that might help increase the prospects of farmers producing timber and other forest products from multipurpose plantations: * Social research to identify landowner motivations, resources and performance criteria rather than assuming landowners will select options on the basis of their apparent long term profitability as suggested by the Net Present Value or Internal Rate of Return; * Low impact harvesting methods for irregular, small scale and/or diverse multipurpose plantations; * Silvicultural management techniques for mixed species or multipurpose plantations that focus on the higher value log markets; * Results-orientated codes of practice that encourage innovation and allow landowners considerable latitude in the way they achieve socially desirable environmental objectives (an alternative to the current prescriptive input-orientated codes); * Wood product research into the value adding of farm grown logs to increase industry confidence and thereby increase their preparedness to pay more for logs that meet their strict market specifications; * New product research and market development for alternative wood or non-wood products from farm trees; * Marketing mechanisms for the sale of environmental and social services from farm forestry to ensure farmers are rewarded for off-site environmental and social benefits. * Knowledge of the relationships between the management of trees for timber (silvicultural management and harvesting) and non-timber values highlighting opportunities for multipurpose production and agroforestry.
Fitting forestry into a farming culture is about farmers growing and managing forests that provide a wide range of values rather than simplistic production focused plantations. The time frames are too long, the risks too great and the opportunities for other values too obvious. Farmers are commonly willing to compromise the long-term focus on timber in order to ensure that other values are retained. This not only ensures early rewards but reduces the risks associated with single purpose forestry options.
AFFA (1999) Managing natural resources in rural Australia for a sustainable future. A discussion paper for developing a national policy. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra
Alexandra, J. and Hall, M. (1998). Creating a viable farm forestry industry in Australia - what will it take. RIRDC Publication No 98/74.
Anderson, J. (1998). Extension for multiple interest forestry. In: Johnson J. E. (ed) Proceedings of a Symposium - Extension Forestry: Bridging the gap between research and application. IUFRO, July 19-24, Blacksburg Virginia.
Commonwealth of Australia (1997). Plantations for Australia: The 2020 Vision, Canberra.
Costello, T. (1999) Tips from a travelling soul-searcher. Allen & Unwin, Australia
Dole, D. (1993) The economics of non-industrial private forest management. Unpublished Ph.D thesis. University of Berkeley.
Francis, J. (2000) Extension approach needs rethink. Australian Farm Journal 9(11) 78:81
Finley, J. (2000) Writing a history on the land through stewardship. Australian Farm Journal 9(11) 31:33
Grist, P. and K. Burns (2000) Plantation: Combining commercial and environmental benefits. OUTLOOK 2000 New Directions/Future Markets, Volume One 167-179.
Hurley, P.J. (1996). Government assistance for private forestry - the Farm Forestry Agreement Scheme in Victoria. Aust. For. 49(3) 181-188
King, C.A. (2000) Systematic Processes for facilitating social learning: Challenging the legacy. Thesis presented to the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
Pearson, C., Coakes, S. and Aslin, H. (2000). Social research to support successful farm forestry. In: Socio-economic research to support successful farm forestry. RIRDC/LWRRDC/FWPRDC Joint Venture Agroforestry Program. RIRDC Publication No. 01/13.
Race, D. and Fulton, A. (2000). Strategies for improving landholder's response to farm forestry development. In Socio-economic research to support successful farm forestry. RIRDC/LWRRDC/FWPRDC Joint Venture Agroforestry Program. RIRDC Publication No. 01/13.
Race, D., Buchy, M. and Fulton, A. (2001). A dynamic context: Farm forestry extension in Australia. Paper presented at the IUFRO Working Party (S6.06-03) Symposium Forestry Extension - Assisting Forest Owner, Farmer and Stakeholder Decision-Making 29th Oct - 2 Nov 2001.
Reid, R. and P. Stephen (2002) The Australian Master TreeGrower Program1996-2001Development, delivery and impact of a national outreach and education program. A report for the RIRDC/L&W Australia/FWPRDC Joint Venture Agroforestry Program.
Rickenbach, M.G., D.B. Kittredge, D. Dennis and T. Stevens (1998) Ecosystem management: Capturing the concept for woodland owners. Journal of Forestry April 1998 18:23
Wilson, S.M., Whitham, J.A.H., Bhati, U.N., Horvath, D. and Tran, Y.D. (1995). Survey of trees on Australian farms: 1993-4, ABARE Research Report 95.7, ABARE, Canberra.
This article was excerpted with the kind permission of the author from:
Reid, R. 2002. "Fitting farm forestry into a dryland farming landscape - not replacing it!--Achieving spontaneous farm forestry development." Australian Master TreeGrower Program, School of Resource Management, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.
For more information about the Master TreeGrower Program, contact:
Australian Master TreeGrower Program Department of Forestry The Institute of Land & Food Resources The University of Melbourne Victoria 3010, Australia Tel: 61 3 8344 5011; Fax: 61 3 9349 4172 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
Rowan Reid (B. For. Sci., M. For. Sci.) is a Senior Lecturer in Agroforestry and Farm Forestry at the University of Melbourne and the developer of the Australian Master TreeGrower Program (MTG). More than 40 MTG programs have been conducted across Australia involving more than 1,000 farmers. In 2000 the program was awarded the $10,000 Eureka Prize for excellence in environmental education. Rowan is also a tree grower himself and has recently made furniture out of ten-year-old eucalypt trees he planted and managed on his Otway Ranges farm. He can be reached at: Rowan Reid, Senior Lecturer, Agroforestry & Farm Forestry, email@example.com. School of Resource Management, The Institute of Land & Food Resources, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia; Tel: 61 3 8344 5011; Fax: 61 3 9349 4172.
Related editions to The Overstory
- The Overstory #98--Integrating Forestry into Farms
- The Overstory #88--Revegetation Planning for Farm Forestry
- The Overstory #73--Buffers, Common-Sense Conservation
- The Overstory #67--Optimising Commercial Timber Potential for Farm Forestry
- The Overstory #59--Choosing Species for Timber Production and Multiple Benefits
- The Overstory #56--Integrating Understory and Tree Crops
- The Overstory #48--Farm Forestry
- The Overstory #36--Silvopasture
- The Overstory #32--Multipurpose Windbreaks