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How to start agroforestry operations on borrowed or rented land?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 1522
Location: Denver, CO
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So here I am, champing at the bit, eager to start working to develop agroforestry for the Front Range. I'd like to start a mass selection breeding process for silvopasture honey locusts, a selection process for Korean nut pines (pinyon pines don't grow this low down or this far north, as I understand it) and start experimenting with yellow horn trees, willow, hazel, and alder coppice, and other species. I only have permanent access to a quarter acre; enough room to start hundreds of tree seedlings, but only enough to plant a few fruit trees permanently.

All around, there is land that people don't particularly care for, especially along the creeks in the Denver metro, and dryland plots further out of town. It is often possible to use this land for growing annuals.

However, trees are a different matter; for these type of breeding projects, I'd need access for at least twenty years.

How would it be if I offered landowners free tree, hedge, shelter belt, or conservation plantings in return for guaranteed access for 20 years for harvest, selection, breeding, coppicing, etc.?

What would such an agreement look like? Would anyone be interested? Are there any models of this sort of agreement anywhere? What might be the opportunities or pitfalls?

I'm thinking that many hobby farm owners or estate owners might appreciate plantings; is this a pipe dream?

Along the urban creeks in the Denver metro, I see huge opportunities for the productive management and introduction of native plants; the area can't be developed, buildings and annual plantings have to stay back from the waters edge, and these actions could help to replace invasive exotics (Russian olive, Siberian elm) and filter polluting run-off. Willow, alders, boxelder, chokecherry, and cottonwoods could be planted and managed as coppice, (while leaving existing large trees for scenic value and habitat) and various native herbs and fruits could be planted for harvest, as could various plants for craft material or propagation.

The same ownership problems apply as above.

Thoughts?
 
gardener
Posts: 406
Location: Sierra Nevadas, CA 6400'
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Twenty years is a long time. However meaningful the agreement you reach with the landowners, it is likely the property will be sold within 20 years. For that reason, I'd try and focus on a different group than hobby farms and estates. Do you have any relationships with ranchers? Preferably older, generational family-owned operations. Ranchers often own large tracts of land that they use for temporary grazing and agroforestry. They might be interested in trading use of land for wildfire control work and restocking (most likely fir). Even then, I'd be a bit concerned about the 20 year timeline. But the only way around that is to own the land yourself.

In the meantime, definitely start some seedlings. Many tree seedlings take 2 years before they're suitable for planting. You've got some time to figure out what to do with them.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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Hi Kyle,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I agree that ranchers would be a better bet overall, though they tend to be further out of town, and wouldn't help me gain access to urban stream bank land.

I also agree that the only secure way to get trees planted is to own land. Might the opposite strategy be planting many trees without too much care ( STUN treatment) in as many different locations as possible? I wonder how the tradeoffs would stack up. On the one hand, relatively fewer, well cared for and secure trees; on the other, thousands of lower maintenance, insecure trees.

Land sales ARE a problem. Do you suppose there would be any way to ensure that access is retained after a sale, or at least tip the balance towards that probability? Of course, as with any tenant, there could be a continuity of tenure across many owners, though it is not guaranteed.

Is there a legal framework that would allow someone to own trees on land owned by another? (For higher value plantings that would be worth ensuring continued access to.)
 
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I would think that there is a legal way to guarantee your continued access across owners. I know that easements regularly continue despite changes in ownership. Those are usually of the 'x-neighboring parcels residents are allowed an easement across this property' type so it is certainly more complicated to just say 'gilbert is allowed back here and you cant cut his trees down' but I would think that the easement model could provide a framework.
 
pollinator
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Oh sure there is, most states have a property tax abatement's as long as their land is in some sort of forestry plan. You just need to include your forestry plans as part of their forestry plan so that they could get property taxes taken off. In that way, you get to do what you want, while they get a bit of a financial reward for allowing you to do that. Agroforestry IS a USDA-NRCS and USDA-FS recognized land conservation practice after all and is not all that radical.

The difficult part is that you are working with (3) people, or (3) sets of people to go along with your plan. The landowner, the forester, and the conservationist. But there is no reason why it could not be done, if all three can go along with what you propose.

My suggestion is to dumb-it-down, not in the application, but in how you word things. I  would read up on forest management plans; they abound on the internet because just about every municipal forest has one, and they like to publish them online, as well as stuff from the USDA-NRCS on AgroForestry as well as the US Forest Service. This stuff is not that radical, not that hated, it just has to be worded just right. For instance, the USDA-NRCS will not, will never build a barn for a farmer...that is a capital cost they must pay themselves, BUT they will pay for a "covered heavy use area with ends walls". Covered, being a roof, heavy use area being a concrete pad, with end walls being...well walls; what you and I call a BARN! See what I mean?

Now all this is in reference to contracts outside of legal deeds...
>>>

Timber Rights is a huge and separate part of the big bundle of sticks that a landowner has...air rights, water rights, mineral rights, building rights, timber rights, etc, so it is a right that can legally be deeded away; kind of like how I can get a deed for a building I build or buy that is on your land. Its my building, it is your land. Same thing with what you propose, your trees, my land. I have just deeded away my timber rights to you. But just as having my building on your land is unlikely...I mean it is tying up your land, so is land that is tied up with trees. So the challenge is getting a land owner to do just that. because of this, I think the first part of my reply is more likely...allowing you to grow trees so they can get property tax reductions or carbon credits.

 
Posts: 121
Location: Brighton, Michigan
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I really don't see any other way you can do it if you don't own the property. Additionally, those species you mentioned are not really worth anything commercially. The nut pines could be worth something if you can get them to produce but as of yet I don't know anyone that ever got a crop off them. I have talked to growers who have planted thousands of those but they mostly all died, are very slow growing. Honey Locust has almost no commercial value and does not make forage grow enough to offset the expense of planting and maintaining them, most silvo pasture is done in the Southeast with pecans trees because of the value of the timber and nuts and also there is a fair amount done with black walnut trees.. So maybe considering some other tree species might also be important, especially something that has been shown to work.
 
Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
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I really don't see any other way you can do it if you don't own the property. Additionally, those species you mentioned are not really worth anything commercially. The nut pines could be worth something if you can get them to produce but as of yet I don't know anyone that ever got a crop off them. I have talked to growers who have planted thousands of those but they mostly all died, are very slow growing. Honey Locust has almost no commercial value and does not make forage grow enough to offset the expense of planting and maintaining them, most silvo pasture is done in the Southeast with pecans trees because of the value of the timber and nuts and also there is a fair amount done with black walnut trees.. So maybe considering some other tree species might also be important, especially something that has been shown to work.



Any of these trees should be valuable as a windbreak though, right? I'm hoping to breed/ trial new tree crops; most tried and true nut crops don't grow here in Denver. As for the nut pines, surely they are grown commercially somewhere in the world?

What I'm hoping to do is convince landowners to let me plant "shelter-belts" or "decorative" tree plantings, or, as Travis has suggested, helping them to get tax rebates etc.


Also, it is a pie in the sky sort of thing, but I'm hoping that markets for some of these things could be developed. I don't know if this is possible or not.

 
pollinator
Posts: 1822
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Now this idea might be a bit intensive for your liking, but bear with me. It might be well suited to you, as you are working on a smaller scale.

I recently saw a pressed fibre product through the geoff lawton Friday 5 that looks a bit in shape like a bunt cake pan, so a half torus with a chimney-like stack coming up out of the centre. The idea is, you thread a seedling up through the stack so that the cake pan portion sits above the root zone of the tree and acts as a water reservoir, keeping the tree watered until it is capable of reaching the water table. A lid is put on the reservoir and the whole thing is buried to within an inch of the lip of the stack.

I think such an idea could benefit you. What you need, in my opinion, is a way to optimize delivery of water and air to the root zone. If these are the conditions you elaborated upon in your flat land post, a structure of sorts that allows for drainage of the immediate root zone area in the soggy season and increased water retention in the dry times might benefit you in that you could accelerate tree growth right through the growing season regardless of the water conditions. If it can be made to work in a desert climate, well the issue of selective air retention needs to be addressed, but I am sure that a similar strategy tailored to your specific case would work wonders.

The goal would, of course, be to accelerate tree growth so that you can realise a return on them sooner. Also, if you go the nursery route, you could use a modified in-ground structure designed to allow you to remove seedlings from where you start them in the ground for reduced-trauma bare-root transplantation elsewhere.

Even trenching mini-swales on contour, hopefully digging in organic matter, and then planting into those would allow for greater water and airflow, increasing the rate of growth, or at least increasing survival rates.

I originally started seeing ideas like this in conjunction with a study that suggested that municipal woodlots could benefit from treated liquid sewage from municipal sources, fed in drip lines instead of dewatering the sewage and shipping it to the landfill. I believe that they were using a hybrid poplar species, but basically, the idea was that if you water trees within their tolerance, they grow faster. Their nutrient uptake increased with their growth rate, which is where the use of treated liquid sewage came in.

In your case, I know part of the issue will be keeping the baby trees from drowning. I know you would probably prefer to go less-intensive in terms of hardware, but imagine the effect of a bubbler hose laid at the bottom of your trench, fitted with a solar-powered air pump, for the wet season. You'd accelerate the growth of your treestock, instead of having them drown.

-CK
 
gardener
Posts: 4890
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Gilbert Fritz wrote

Is there a legal framework that would allow someone to own trees on land owned by another? (For higher value plantings that would be worth ensuring continued access to.



Yes you can have a Land Use contract written to include continued access even if the land is sold, it would need to specify how much land with legal description along with for how many years, and it can spell out what you are allowed to do on said lands as well. 
Once that is in place, a new owner would be obligated to honor the contract or buy your interest out.
 
Kyle Neath
gardener
Posts: 406
Location: Sierra Nevadas, CA 6400'
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One struggle I've seen often with land use contracts is that while they are legally binding, very few landowners are willing to write in a change in ownership clause because they dramatically reduce the marketability of property, and significantly reduce the sale price of raw land. The latter trade off isn't such a big deal — people with large piece of land are rarely in it for the value of the land. But the marketability of the property is massive. It is incredibly difficult to find a buyer for large pieces of land with all rights, and if you have restrictions on it there is a good chance you have written in a restriction that would eliminate one of the few possible buyers.

It is not to say that it's impossible to set up one of these contracts. But in my experience, land owners (or more specifically, their attorneys / financial managers) want to reserve all rights caveat to a change in ownership. Easements are one of the very few exceptions to this rule I've seen, and even then, property owners often fight tooth and nail to restrict easements as far as possible.

In the end, I think the best way to maintain control through a change in ownership is to give people something that they value, be honest, and be nice. You might not get a legally binding contract. But let's be honest, even a legal framework isn't going to protect you from a new owner who doesn't want you on their property. They can easily destroy decades of your work and the only recourse you'd have is trying to put a monetary value to your work and fight them in court (spoiler alert: that isn't going to end well for you). But if you're the nice man who does forest management for the property in trade for practicing his curiosity… they'll probably want to keep you around.
 
Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
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Chris, I've seen similar tools, but not that particular one; I'll have to look it up. The ones I've seen so far are quite spendy, but maybe something could be fabricated out of waste objects.

In the end, I think the best way to maintain control through a change in ownership is to give people something that they value, be honest, and be nice. You might not get a legally binding contract. But let's be honest, even a legal framework isn't going to protect you from a new owner who doesn't want you on their property. They can easily destroy decades of your work and the only recourse you'd have is trying to put a monetary value to your work and fight them in court (spoiler alert: that isn't going to end well for you). But if you're the nice man who does forest management for the property in trade for practicing his curiosity… they'll probably want to keep you around.



Kyle, you are probably right about that.

Interestingly, this would be going back to the old way that land rights, particularly forest rights, were managed. Few people actually had legal rights to land or wood, but most had customary or traditional "rights;" they could cut so many trees from a given forest, pasture so many animals on a given meadow, place so many beehives in a particular ring-fort.
 
Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
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Location: Denver, CO
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This thread has been very interesting. Obviously, I haven't got this figured out yet. But I think there is a great deal of potential.

On the one hand, there is a huge need for local breeding of new tree crops for dryland agroforestry. This means planting out thousands of seedling trees and letting them grow, probably without too much pampering, and maybe one out of a thousand of these trees will actually end up being usable in the next step of the breeding program. Each tree is, on average, not very valuable to the program. Land, on the other hand, is expensive. Also, putting all the trees in the same place risks the sudden loss of them all to disaster, whether the land is owned or not.

On the other hand, there are lots of properties that could be improved by trees. The owners might not care that they are being bred for edible pods or palatable feed, but they would work just as well for ornamental, shelter, or screening purposes.

Finally, there is the ancient art of coppicing, which once  provided hundreds of products to local economies in sustainable fashion.

Even if only the first two could be combined, I think the results would be huge. If the third could be added, and the non-optimal trees managed as a productive coppice, it would be even better.

The third is the most doubtful; could local markets for coppiced material be developed? People pay good money for privacy fencing, snow fencing, trellising, outdoor furniture, bamboo garden stakes, etc.; in theory, these could all be produced from coppice, if people's tastes could be changed, if only on a small scale. Biochar operations are starting up, and might appreciate a source of nice, uniform fuel grown in a sustainable fashion. Florists use "coppiced" woody material in arrangements; maybe they would like a more sustainable, natural supply. Our local conifers are rather inferior firewood, and while the local oaks are good for fuel, there are only so many of them; maybe a locust coppice would be a good niche for specialty firewood.

Let's brainstorm this. What coppice uses would fit into the existing order of things? (In other words, we can't bank on a return of thatched roofs or hop poles.)

Here is a link to a video on making coppice paling fence
  Supposedly, thousands of kilometers of this stuff is manufactured in Britain. Could a honey locust coppice produce such material? An oak coppice?
 
Ray Moses
Posts: 121
Location: Brighton, Michigan
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Yes shelterbelts and wind brakes make sense.  I think nut pines are mainly gathered in parts of the world where there is really cheap manual labor I don't believe that there is a lot of mechanization in that industry  and I don't think the trees produce an annual crop so that probably is the reason why pine nuts are so expensive per pound.
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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Sympathetic culinary mushroom species, for a start. I plan to do a jackpine and chanterelle-based shelterbelt in at least one place, and it might expand depending on how well it does.

But whatever the favourite culinary mushroom in the area, even if you don't eat them yourself, look at the price per pound of dried mushrooms, or the fresh price, where they can be found. And you'd be fostering beneficial soil conditions for your nursery, too.

-CK
 
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I'm working on a walnut breeding project in my valley. My strategy is to give away or sell as many seedlings as possible, and then more or less forget about them for the next 15 years. I'm watching a number of trees that are growing on properties that have changed hands several times since the trees were planted. When the trees get mature enough to produce seeds, it's my intention to knock on the door of whomever owns the property at that time, and ask for seeds. Some of the trees are growing in the city right of way, or at parks, or along trails. I can take seeds from those whenever they become available. No permission necessary. People love to find out that they have inadvertently been involved in a multi-generational plant breeding project. I don't even have to know where the trees ended up. I watch what's happening in my community. If a beautiful walnut tree shows up somewhere, I don't require that it is a descendant of my breeding project. If it's a great tree that produces great nuts, then it can become an ancestor to the next generation.

I also plant walnut trees on the properties of people who have been stable members of my community for decades. Chances are good that the owners of the land, or their children will still be living in the same house 50 years from now.

For what it's worth "owning" land is no guarantee that I'll still have access to it next week, next year, or next decade.


walnut-seedlings.jpg
[Thumbnail for walnut-seedlings.jpg]
Walnut seedlings headed into the community.
 
Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
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Joseph, that is great! That is just the sort of thing I have in mind. And those walnuts have huge roots! They almost look like a root crop of some sort.

Chris, that is a great idea. I imagine certain sorts of edible mushrooms are in short supply here due to a lack of suitable hardwood hosts. I know next to nothing about this topic, I'll have to research it.

One promising species is neohybrid hazelnuts from Badgersett. The worst part of this climate for growing staple tree crops are the late spring frosts that kill blooms. Hazels have hardy blooms that survive frost.

Another thing to think about is fire; how to minimize the chance that my work goes up in flames in a grass fire. I guess a continuous, long windbreak might be a bad idea; maybe many short, staggered rows with gaps in between? I could also prune off ladder fuels. Coppice plots would probably burn like a torch, though. I guess cultivated land or creek banks would be best for these in any case. Many of these species do re-sprout vigorously after fire, so it wouldn't be a total loss, but would set any breeding project back years. Nut pines in particular would burn and be a total loss.
 
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