Looking for land right now and came across a great tract bordered by national forest land on two sides. About 20% of the property is bottom land that is in flood plain of a major creek/small river. Currently this land is planted in row crops but having lived around here for so long I know its the kind of spot that floods every few years, parts of it probably flood every spring. Anyone have any experience applying perennial polycultures in a floodplain? Is this best left to grazing and annuals?
In general, most things can tolerate at least a little bit of flooding and some perennials laugh at flooding (especially when they are dormant). One thing to remember is that not all floodplain land is created equal and a relatively subtle change within the floodplain can be the difference between somethings living and something dying.
Todd McDonald wrote:Looking for land right now and came across a great tract bordered by national forest land on two sides. About 20% of the property is bottom land that is in flood plain of a major creek/small river. Currently this land is planted in row crops but having lived around here for so long I know its the kind of spot that floods every few years, parts of it probably flood every spring. Anyone have any experience applying perennial polycultures in a floodplain? Is this best left to grazing and annuals?
About 30 acres of my 145 acre farm is exactly as you describe. It flooded completely twice last year, and not at all this year. It was previously row-cropped, and the erosion is very apparent. I seeded the entire floodplain to pasture/hay mix. A polyculture orchard can get inundated in water and survive...but you have to get it there first. The big concern for tree or bush crops harvested for human consumption is the pathogen loads introduced when it does flood - the entire crop is immediately off-limits for at least 120 days. Grazing livestock there may be a different story. I think floodplains are best suited to grazing - with the clear establishment of adjacent high ground and escape routes for livestock in the event of flash flood.
From your description it sounds like somewhere along Cedar Creek. I'm not sure the soil is deep enough there but pecan trees might be an option. There is a farm a few miles west of Moberly on Highway 24 where they have pecan orchards and pasture in the river bottom.
One of the most useful tools I've found is Community Commons, it's a free mapping service that either started with or partnered with the University of Missouri. You can zoom in to the property in question and then click "Add Data," type "Soil" in the search box, and one of the results should be "SSURGO Soil Boundaries by Map Unit, NRCS." Clicking that will overlay the map with yellow lines that indicate the spatial extent of different soils. Clicking on one of the shapes pulls up all sorts of attributes- slope, drainage class, hay production, even tree species that do well on that soil type. They may also provide some insight on how frequently flooded the soil type is.
Without knowing whether you're looking for a family/subsistence farming project or something you can market, here are some insights:
- Bottomland hardwoods grow pretty well in this part of the world; if you're interested in a long-term investment, it may be worthwhile to incorporate some high-value hardwood species like black walnut, red oak, and cherry into your plan. Mizzou's Center for Agroforestry has a lot of insight on those sorts of projects, you may google them and pick their brain. Pecan is a really good bottomland species but we're approaching the northern limit of their productive range; some years they may not have enough growing-degree days to fully fill their nut cavity, which can effect the price you receive at market.
- Lots of native shrub species are adapted to occassional (or even prolonged) flooding. Elderberry and Pawpaw come immediately to mind. I think blackberries would be fine, American Hazelnut may do alright, I can't remember, it may be something to check out. You may not have the air drainage in a bottom to do cultivated fruits like peaches, grapes, etc, although if there's some side-slope those become do-able, along with chestnuts and other goodies. I've seen feral apple and pear trees growing in stream bottoms near old homesteads, but between air drainage and the number of cedar trees in mid-MO doing them on a commercial scale may be a challenge.
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