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Tree tour shows latest silvoculture research

Tour to be held at Kootenay Tree Farms, Thursday, Sept. 19
The latest developments in the silvopasture industry will be on display Thursday

The latest developments in a key local industry will be demonstrated to the public next week.

Charlie Willis's tree farm, a few miles east of Cranbrook, is hosting the Kootenay Silvopasture Tour on Thursday, Sept. 19.

The tour is sponsored by the Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative (AIDI), and is part of a project designed to enhance both Christmas tree production and silvopasture for wildlife and livestock in the Kootenays. A release from AIDI says prior work has determined that Christmas tree silvopastures have the potential to increase the number of hectares for animal forage in the Kootenays.

The BC Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative is funding the Kootenay Silvopasture Tour and others like it, Willis said, to help with studies on forage availability and plant identification. In this way, Willis's farm is serving as a working site, as part of the ongoing study on the economics of opening up forage availability on Christmas tree farms.

Charlie Willis developed a method of pruning his Christmas trees based on the way fruit trees are pruned: a little higher from the ground, allowing for more air space between the tree and the ground.

This technique makes the trees less susceptible to ground-borne diseases.

He also has a specific method of "stump culture" pruning – after the tree is cut, the way the limbs are left on the stump from the initial pruning means when the tree regenerates it requires less pruning, with less stress on the new tree.

Willis leaves the emerging limbs only on the north and south sides of the new tree, with the topmost limb on the north side of the stump.

"In the process of doing this, we've opened up the ground that we grow trees on," Willis said. "There has been a subsequent increase in forage and native grasses."

Willis said, by tending to the growing Christmas trees in this way, not only are the health and disease resistance of the trees improved, but local grasslands native to the East Kootenay are enhanced, and forage areas for wildlife and cattle are increased.

Last year's tour — the first in the AIDI project — took a look at these pruning techniques.

This year's tour will be looking at several aspects of the Christmas tree and ranching industries, and how they come together. Some of these aspects include:

• Livestock distribution in silvopastures;

• Tree diseases and the relationship to temperature and bud break;

• Pruning and spacing of trees to maximize tree production and forage;

• Raising of the level of the tree canopy for air flow and forage production;

• Fertilization techniques for the benefit of trees and forage;

• Managing soil water retention for trees and forage;

• Managing saskatoons and rough fescue for elk and other wildlife;

• Forage cover in relation to trees.

The AIDI release said that the local producer groups who will directly benefit from the project are the Kootenay Christmas Tree Association (which has approximately 20 members in the region) and the Kootenay Livestock Assocation (with approximately 80 members).

If you would like to attend, call Charlie Willis at 250-489-4877, or email

The tour takes place Thursday, Sept. 19, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. It starts from the junction of Pritchard Road and Highway 3/93, about eight miles east of Cranbrook.

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998.
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