Organic Consumers Association

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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Seeing the Pasture for the Trees

RONKS, Pa. — Shaded pastures are among the more challenging conditions faced by anyone trying to establish a productive pasture. This scenario varies but often involves a grazier who wants to set up a very intentional form of silvopasture, managing both trees and forage to balance the productivity of both.

To be clear, there is no forage crop you can grow well under full leaf canopy. Plants need some sunlight to perform photosynthesis, manufacture sugars, and grow.  Although the ideal balance of needed conditions differs for each plant, there are also a set of basic requirements for any plant to thrive.

Depending on the available sunlight, a shady area can result in a thinner stand. The less robust growth will also be less resilient to outside impacts like traffic or overgrazing. Shading reduces height of the forage species that have a naturally upright growth habit, and also leads to less tiller production. However, in shade tolerant species, leaf area and both shoot-to-root and leaf-to-stem ratios may be increased.  With less active cell division and growth, sugars are also apt to concentrate in the plant.

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