By MAGGIE SCHUETTE-VOSS
Oria Brinkmeier tried to make his pasture a field. "After starting to convert the pasture to cultivated ground, I changed my mind after clearing two acres," he said.
"I just felt there had to be a better way of using this ground than destroying beautiful, healthy trees. Especially since it takes many years to grow trees. It seemed that, at this time, this community needed more trees, rather than more corn and soybeans," he said.
Bouncing along in his pickup to his property in rural Lester Prairie, Brinkmeier points out the trees that were uprooted before he called off the heavy equipment.
The fact those trees are gone can't be changed, but Brinkmeier continues to drive to where neither heavy equipment nor a tractor has touched.
On this 40 acres is Brinkmeier's science project.
Brinkmeier has received a three-year grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Grant Project to study if there is a way for cattle and reforestation to mix.
His project is designed to test whether a good, high upland row crop type ground can be effectively used in an alternate manner and at the same time:
Brinkmeier plans to take his unused pasture and convert it to a field of hardwood trees, while simultaneously using the area for pasturing cattle in a rotational manner.
Hardwood, Brinkmeier said, is in short supply, but growing hardwoods as a cash crop is unappealing because of the extensive time it takes them to grow.
Combining cattle and planting hardwood offers cash flow in the short term - cattle - while growing a crop - hardwood - that will be a cash crop, or just a forest, in the long term.
He is confident his pasture will produce the hardwood trees.
In his grant application, Brinkmeier pointed out that long before farms, this area, including Winsted and Lester Prairie, was part of the "Big Woods," consisting of many hardwoods.
The "Big Woods" started at about where the city of Mound is, and was 75 miles wide, extending about 150 miles to the west.
Brinkmeier believes this project improves the environment by keeping the runoff on high ground and use of chemical and fertilizers will be greatly reduced, and perhaps with some effort, can be eliminated.
Fuel use for heavy equipment will be greatly reduced, as will compaction and all other concerns that go with row crop farming.
The most labor intensive part of this project will be the record keeping, Brinkmeier said.
Of his 40 acres, 20 will be used for the project. It will be mapped into one-acre parcels, and each acre will have the soil type, grass, and tree species present documented.
Brinkmeier will work with the area forester and the University of Minnesota forestry department, getting recommendations on the tree species to be planted in each area, and have a detailed plan how to care for the trees and protect them from cattle and wildlife.
It will be 20 to 30 years before the trees are harvestable. They will be red oak, white oak, hard maples, and whatever else the forestry department suggests.
Although it might seem obvious to just place a fence around the trees, the idea is to reforest the area, not just plant trees in rows.
Other records that will be kept are tree health measures, cost inputs, species selection plan, temperature, and rainfall recording, and projections for estimates in years following the initial three years of the project.
Brinkmeier said the most important part to be evaluated is the input costs compared with the returns in years one through three, and base on that projections of estimates of input and output costs for the next 10 years.
As for the cattle, they will be allowed to graze in one area, and will be monitored as to how long it takes to graze and their effect on the trees in that area.
They will then be moved to another area and the same procedure followed.
The information Brinkmeier gathers will be made available to the various agricultural magazines and a brochure will be prepared for distribution.
The Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program will be given a detailed report in the event it wants to duplicated the project.
Brinkmeier's idea is not a flight of fancy. The United States Department of Agriculture's National Agroforestry Center (NAC) is also looking at ideas similar to Brinkmeier's.
The main difference between NAC and Brinkmeier is that his aim is to create a hardwood forest/crop, which he realizes he will not see in his lifetime.
NAC, which encourages planting a fast-growing tree, outlines the process in detail at its World Wide Web site located at www.unl.edu/nac/