As I’ve worked on over a dozen silvopasture projects over the last few years, guiding them all the way from plan through planting and then several years of aftercare, I’ve noticed a regular pattern. It’s a phenomenon I call “the dip”.
You see, tree plantings start out with a lot of energy and excitement. Planting a tree is an act of hope for the future. Yet trees are not in the business of growing fast or giving you quick rewards. It’s good to assume that you won’t get a ton of return for about 5 years. And between that first excitement of the planting, and the benefits at 5 years, is when you’ll likely experience the dip, a time of uncertainty whether all of this is actually worth it. For those years, it’s seemingly all pain and no gain. The trees give you more work than you had before, with no fruit to yet show for your labor. You might well wonder if you made the right move.
So what can we do about the dip?
One, if there’s real problems going on, like a high rate of tree mortality or lots of damage from livestock, make sure it gets corrected. You don’t want your investment in these trees to get derailed because of preventable problems. Maintenance takes time, but is absolutely key. Take care of the trees now, and they’ll take care of you later.
Two, use larger stock and reduce the return-on-investment time. More mature trees, like 10’ live stakes or tall seedlings, let you skip over the phase when trees are tiny, need the most care, and have the highest mortality rates. Trees have a hard enough time getting established in pastures, you might as well give them the best shot you can. Also, it’s fun to see trees stick out of their shelters in the first season. It gives you the hope you need that this will indeed work.
Lastly, just knowing that the dip is coming is helpful. It’s all part of the game when working with silvopasture. It’s all about long-term rewards, not instant gratification. Recognize that, embrace the pace, and stick with the plan. Make sure the trees are cared for, and before you know it, you and your livestock will be standing in sweet cool shade, where you’ll forget all about that dip.