BLACKSBURG — John Munsell, associate professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension forest management specialist in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, has been awarded a total of $1.4 million to expand uses of agroforestry to enhance farm and forest production while achieving strategic conservation goals.

Many practices fall under the broad category of agroforestry, which is the integration of trees into agricultural systems. Trees in agroforestry systems can be managed for timber, livestock fodder, fruits, nuts, florals, and more, offering landowners opportunities to produce marketable forest products in addition to agricultural products. Incorporating more trees into the landscape also plays an important role in improving soil health and water quality.

Complementary awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grants program and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund totaling over $560,000 support a public-private partnership that will work to integrate agroforestry practices into Virginia’s water quality trading program and demonstrate and evaluate associated practices.

“The objective is to increase tree-based nutrient offset opportunities on farmland in Virginia’s region of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and beyond,” Munsell said. The partnership is broad, including the Chesapeake Bay Nutrient Land Trust, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Cooperative Extension, USDA National Agroforestry Center, VHB Engineering, and the Troutman Sanders law firm.

The USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the eXtension Foundation Innovation Grants Program, and the USDA Forest Service are supporting programs to expand forest farming in Appalachia and on Native American land. Munsell received over $880,000 to support initiatives that include citizen science 2.0, management based on traditional ecological knowledge, and geodesign techniques and high performance computer simulation to promote precision forest farming.

“The overarching aim of the work is to expand the cultivation and conservation of nontimber forest products and to prepare forest farmers to supply verified and organic forest-grown raw materials to nutraceutical and herbal product industries,” Munsell explained.

Partners in this effort include the USDA Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Penn State, North Carolina State University, Maryland University of Integrative Health, Virginia Tech’s Visual Computing Lab and Center for Geospatial Information Technology, Appalachian Sustainable Development, United Plant Savers, Rural Action, Blue Ridge Woodland Growers, USDA National Agroforestry Center, North Carolina Herbarium, Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, and Southern Regional Extension Network.

The College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, which consistently ranks among the top three programs of its kind in the nation, advances the science of sustainability. Programs prepare the future generation of leaders to address the complex natural resources issues facing the planet. World-class faculty lead transformational research that complements the student learning experience and impacts citizens and communities across the globe on sustainability issues, especially as they pertain to water, climate, fisheries, wildlife, forestry, sustainable biomaterials, ecosystems, and geography. As a land-grant university, Virginia Tech serves the Commonwealth of Virginia in teaching, research, and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

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