Forestry: Overview

Land use in Florida is undergoing significant change as many agricultural enterprises shift to the establishment of forest tree plantations on old agricultural fields and pastures. This is occurring on top of an already extensively forested land base. For example, Suwannee and Hamilton Counties are 64% forested, with standing timber values approaching $330 million and annual timber harvests worth $38 million in 1996. As landowners plan these conversions they wonder about which tree species to plant, appropriate site preparation methods for old agricultural sites, and treatments such as fertilization and herbicides.

Forestry, or Forest Management, is the science of establishing, cultivating, and managing forests.  With careful planning and active management, forests can yield multiple economic and environmental benefits for present and future generations.

Agroforestry is the intentional growing of woody plants with row crops, forages, and/or livestock. Practiced in various forms since ancient times in China, the Mediterranean, and pre-colonial America, agroforestry is now gaining popularity in North America because of associated economic and environmental benefits.

Economic Benefits. The economics of agroforestry rely on the premise that while it usually takes years for the woody crop to mature, associated crop(s) and/or livestock can provide annual income in the interim.

Environmental Benefits. Trees in agroforestry systems modulate microclimate, improve nutrient and water relations, prevent soil erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife and other desirable organisms. In some documented cases, diverse woody and cover crop species combinations provided habitat for beneficial insects, which were either pollinators or known biological control agents for pest species. Agroforestry systems with livestock can have higher nutrient use efficiency and turnover rates compared to other production systems.

Major Agroforestry Practices. Agroforestry is an umbrella term for at least six major practices:

  • Alley cropping
  • Forest farming
  • Riparian forest buffers
  • Silvopasture
  • Windbreaks
  • Special applications

Silviculture is "the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society on a sustainable basis." [The Dictionary of Forestry, 1998]

The two cornerstones of silviculture are silvics and ecology. Silvics provide descriptions of individual tree species in the context of sciences basic to understanding how trees grow. Ecology explains the relationships between trees, other living organisms and their environment: soil, climate, and the land itself.