Several have asked…"What are you doing with the pine trees coming up through the bushes?!"
We feel as farmers we have a responsibility to you, your children and grand children to fix more carbon dioxide than we use in growing the fruit. That would include the fossil fuel used for tractors etc and in the making of fertilizer, in making the plant pharmaceuticals and pheromones used to manage pests, the food the workers eat and the gas you used to come pick. We want to have a net positive foot print when it comes to carbon. Farmers in general are responsible for 30% of the global warming gases produced and global warming.
When I look around the woods that surround the farm I see carbon dioxide being fixed with 70 feet–80 feet of vegetation. It is not an apple to apple comparison because we use winter legumes and grassed middles which fix carbon and nitrogen all winter long while the woods go dormant. But still our depth is only 7 to 8 feet. So to increase our depth of carbon dioxide fixation we are planting pines. In 2012 we planted Loblolly 3, supposedly resistant to rust disease. Since we are now in Zone 8a instead of 7 we are giving it a try. The plan is to plant them in east west rows and to limb them up north south as they grow. This will mean less impact from shade. The rows are spaced out at 75 to 100 feet initially. Benefits, in addition to the carbon they fix, will be to slow down violent summer thunderstorms, therefore less berry drop. The risk is that it will provide perching area for robin flocks which eat about 3 to 7 hundred pounds a day. We have sprayed with Avitrol (Avitrol is a food ingredient from grapes) and it, along with the reflective devices on white sticks, distress calls, the screech owl boxes and purple martins appears to be working for the moment.
In fall of 2013, we added Long Leaf pine in the east-west rows of Loblolly we started in 2012. While the loblolly grew extremely well in 2013, we wanted to add the Long Leaf because they live longer. We are gambling that the Long Leaf will make it (just as we did with the Loblolly)… we are in zone 8a which is borderline for the Long Leaf’s best growing conditions. There is also the risk that the big long needles of Long Leaf, if they become coated with ice, will weigh the branches to a point of breaking (damaging the plants below). The advantage of Long leaf is they can live for 500 years so the carbon they sequester stays sequestered. The loblolly will go a 100 years.
In addition to increasing our depth of carbon sequestration, the pine trees will provide passive frost protection and wind breaks for violent summer storms. In another year or so we will start to remove the north and south growing branches so the trees will have minimal shade impact.
We are very excited about the work that is happening at the Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas that is being lead by Wes Jackson. They are developing perennial grains like wheat grass. It is called Kernza. It has a root system that can penetrate to 12 feet in the ground and, I believe, sequester more carbon than its annual cousin while also providing grain. For me it is the nexus of food, water and energy. Carbon dioxide is central to all three components of the nexus. If you get the chance, read Wes Jackson’s books and/or visit their web site. We hope someday we can be a demonstration site.