Decorative trees and shrubs could supplement farm income

By G.T. Tabler, I.L. Berry and A.M. Mendenhall for the University of Arkansas's Avian Advice - Producers sometimes consider land taken out of production for windbreak establishment nonproductive because it doesn’t provide direct income.
calendar icon 22 January 2007
clock icon 8 minute read


Growing income-generating plants in the windbreak might change that view. Decorative branches from woody perennial shrubs are becoming extremely popular for use by the florist industry in floral arrangements. Trends in floral design have increased the demand for branches from a number of shrubs with decorative flowers and fruits, as well as branch form and color. Perhaps producers could screen their operation from public view, reduce movement of odors, dust and noise off-site, and provide extra income all at the same time. Windbreaks and Production Facilities Without wind management, air movement causes odors emitted from livestock facilities and manure storage areas tend to travel along the ground as a plume. A properly designed windbreak will slow odor movement from livestock facilities. Windbreaks also create an obstacle for fresh, outside air masses forcing them up and over the tree row to create a moderate, evenly distributed, gentle airflow through the trees.

The slow air movement past production facilities tends to dilute and reduce the movement of odor, dust and noise offsite. Ideally about 60 percent of the wind should be deflected up and over the windbreak while 40 percent should pass through the canopy of the trees (Missouri NRCS, 2004). While windbreaks are less effective at odor reduction when wind is minimal, the visual screening remains a benefit.

Although the idea of placing vegetative windbreaks around agricultural buildings and farm fields is not new, additional benefits from farm windbreaks continue to be discovered. Windbreaks alone will not prevent odor problems associated with intensive livestock production, but may provide farmers with a tool to improve their image with surrounding communities. Missouri NRCS (2004) reports that windbreaks can reduce the effects of livestock odor and improve visual perception of production buildings in the following ways:

  1. Dilution and dispersion of gases and odors by a mixing effect created by windbreaks.
  2. Deposition of odorous dusts and aerosols on leaves, needles and branches of plants on the inside of windbreaks.
  3. Collection and storage within tree wood of the chemical constituents of odor pollution.
  4. Containment of odor at the source.
  5. Aesthetic appearance:
    • Trees create a visual barrier to livestock facilities
    • Trees can make cropped fields and pastures more visually pleasing
    • Trees represent an ¡°environmental statement¡± to neighbors that the producer is taking the initiative to address nuisance problems.
    • Using Trees and Floral Shrubs in Arkansas Windbreaks

The U.S. public is increasingly concerned about the interaction of agricultural activities with the environment, rural communities, consumer health, worker safety, and ethics (NRC, 1996). Many problems the general public associates with poultry production (air quality, water quality or litter management) are cause for concern among Arkansas poultry producers. Given these circumstances, screening farming operations from public view should certainly be given consideration by producers.

At least one row of an evergreen variety should be considered in the windbreak for year round poultry house screening. However, additional rows of decorative woody florals might also be planted. Decorative woody florals are specialty forest products that might also be considered as income producers and to help recoup some of the establishment costs. Essentially, decorative woody florals are any plant species that has a colorful or unusually shaped stem that could become a decorative product. Josiah (2002) indicated that florists pay wholesalers $0.60-$0.80 per 4¡¯- 5¡¯ stem of corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana) or pussy willow (Salix caprea), with larger stems bringing more. Holly (Ilex spp.) and flowering branches of apple (Malus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), pear (Pyrus spp.) as wells as other spring flowering trees or shrubs might command even higher prices. A survey of wholesale and retail florists in Nebraska (a relatively less populated state) indicated a market of approximately 225,000 woody stems sold annually (Lambe and Josiah, 2001). There is also the possibility that the neighbors who bought the small tract of land next door to build a new house might follow the leader and plant their own floral windbreak, further screening nearby agricultural operations.

Poultry producers are accustomed to the long hours and hard work it takes to be successful; however, marketing decorative woody florals (DWF) presents a new challenge. Timing of harvest, perishability of product, labor availability, wildlife pressure, insects and disease, year-to-year production variability, and lack of formalized subsidy or crop insurance programs all require planning and management. Most DWF markets are ¡°niche¡± in nature, successfully addressing these markets will require producers to spend time to understanding these markets and promoting their product. Josiah (2001a) recommends lining up markets before production investments are made since smaller niche markets may be easily overwhelmed by excessive supply and prices can be volatile depending on product supply and quality. Essential questions to ask to understand potential customers include (Josiah, 2001b):

  • To whom are we marketing?
  • To whom are we not marketing?
  • What are they like?
  • What do they like?
  • What are their current wants and needs?
  • What are their perceptions?
  • Do/Can our products meet their expectations?

Armed with this information, chances are you can better identify areas in which you can successfully compete (e.g., timing, quality, freshness, new products, lower transport costs, etc). Unfortunately, there is limited information available about this type enterprise and little money to support broader research, development, and transfer of knowledge. This would seem to provide an opportunity for researchers, Cooperative Extension and others to begin to document information on prices and production and provide it to the public, particularly agricultural producers and acreage owners, in a useful format (Josiah, 2002).

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is studying 45 species or cultivars of trees and shrubs adapted to the Midwest and Great Plains that produce commercially valuable non-timber forest products (Rixstine, 2003). Products from the plantings are harvested as they mature, permitting opportunities to evaluate plant response to harvesting and a better understanding of market characteristics such as quality criteria, demand, pricing, seasonality, market location and capacity. Harvests of a number of the decorative florals began just two years after planting, whereas timber-type species may take 50-80 years to mature. Three years after planting in the Nebraska trial, the most productive species and one of the species with the greatest demand (scarlet curls willow) produced gross income of nearly $5.00/linear foot of planting along the row with plants spaced at 5 feet apart within the row (Josiah et al., 2004). Nebraska researchers estimate that, once established, they could supplement a family¡¯s annual income by $5,000 to $15,000, if they are willing to do a month¡¯s work of hand-harvesting in late fall and early winter, and then market the fresh product to wholesale or retail florists (Rixstine, 2003). For such an undertaking to work in Arkansas, species or cultivars adapted to the Arkansas climate would have to be used and researchers and Extension personnel with proper expertise would need to assist producers.


Windbreaks are an option that many poultry producers should consider, especially those with operations along and near roadways in clear public view. Windbreaks can screen poultry houses and improve visual perception of farming operations. Dust, noise and odors leaving an operation may also be reduced. A new twist on windbreak plantings is to incorporate decorative woody florals or other non-timber forest products that may generate supplemental income in a relatively short period after establishment. This could prove beneficial to poultry producers from both an environmental and economic standpoint.


Josiah, S. J. 2001a. Productive conservation: Growing specialty forest products in agroforestry plantings. School of Natural Resource Sciences and Cooperative Extension, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 4 pages.
Josiah, S.J. 2001b. Marketing specialty forest products. School of Natural Resource Sciences and Cooperative Extension, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 4 pages.
Josiah, S. J. 2002. Non-timber forest products in the Midwest and Great Plains. University of Nebraska/ Cooperative Extension Service/ Kimmel Education and Research Center.
Josiah, S. J., R. St-Pierre, H. Brott, and J. Brandle. 2004. Productive conservation: Diversifying farm enterprises by producing specialty woody products in agroforestry systems. J. Sustainable Agri. 23(3):93-108.
Lambe, D., and S. J. Josiah. 2001. Woody decorative floral markets in Nebraska. Final Report. School of Natural Resource Sciences, University of Nebraska- Lincoln. NAC. 2003. Working trees for agriculture. USDA National Agroforestry Center (NAC), East Campus-University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE.
NAC. ND. Working trees for carbon: Windbreaks in the U.S. USDA National Agroforestry Center (NAC), East Campus-UNL, Lincoln, NE.
NRC.1996. Colleges of agriculture at the land grant universities: Public service and public policy. Committee on the future of the colleges of agriculture in the land grant university system. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRCS, Missouri. Using windbreaks to reduce odors associated with livestock production facilities. Windbreak/shelterbeltodor control. Conservation practice information sheet (IS-MO380).
Rixstine, B. 2003.Woody shrubs valued for outdoor conservation, indoor decoration. Connect 3(1):1, February. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension.

Source: Avian Advice - Winter 2006 - Volume 8, Number 2
© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.