Funding Granted for Research on Integrated Mushroom/Duck Agroforestry System

As mentioned in a post made last December, Work With Nature LLC applied for funding through Northeast SARE to support researching the feasibility of integrating meat duck production with cultivation of forest-grown shiitakes. We are please to announce we’ve been granted the funds to proceed with our research! Our rationale behind the need for this research was as follows:

(excerpt from grant)

“Log grown shiitake mushrooms are a growing interest of many Northeast Farmers. Barriers to entry include the labor-intensive nature of the process, frequent slug problems, and that laying yards are situated in woodland areas, often far from normal farm routines.

Integration of meat ducks into the laying yard brings more yields for the farmer on a single trip, promotes effective slug control, and better utilized forest ecosystems in the farm landscape. Ducks are an under appreciated farm asset with the potential to sustainably manage pests while providing high quality products for market. Little research has been done to demonstrate the potential for integrated duck farming in the Northeast.”

Our request for funding following on the heels of a wildly successful grant effort, “Cultivation of shiitake mushrooms as an agroforestry crop for New England,” a joint venture of the University of Vermont and Cornell University, which was funded in 2012. This project has thus far educated over 296 beginning and veteran farmers in 10 states and currently has 20 selected growers who are establishing and collecting data on log-grown shiitake cultivation around the Northeast. The response to this outreach effort has far exceeded the targets set in the grant.
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Project organizers recently released a beautiful guide for shiitake cultivation, which can be downloaded at the Northeast SARE website.

Our concept is based on the permaculture principle of stacking in time and space, as the annual yields of mushrooms and duck meat are stacked in time with the long-term yield of maple syrup and/or timber from a well-managed forest. By stacking complementary crops in one space, farmers can do work more efficiently and yield larger and more diverse products on less acreage.

Research will be conducted on a roughly 1-acre forested area that currently hosts the mushroom yard. This is a previously unmanaged forest with sugar maple dominating the overstory. Our operation currently has around 700 logs, and an additional 500 will be added in 2012 and 500 in 2013.

This trial will be conducted over two mushroom growing seasons (runs April through October), with the first season focusing on breed selection (2012), and the second season on system optimization (2013).
Design of laying yard
In 2012, we plan to set up three separate areas: two will trial different duck species, and one will serve as a control. Each plot will be about a quarter of an acre (see figure 3). Each area will have approximately 200 - 250 logs, which will be managed in 8 groups of about 20 logs per group.(Mushroom logs need 8 weeks of rest between soakings.)

Each week, we will soak a group from each of the three trial areas on the same day. After soaking we will conduct a slug count of soaked logs every day until all mushrooms have been harvested (usually 5 – 7 days aftersoaking). We will also weigh and grade mushrooms harvested each day, and photographing any noted damage to caps.

In each of the duck runs we will evaluate 20 Peking and Muscovy ducks. These are breeds selected for their good meat production, general tendency to forage, and low maintenance needs. We are keeping the breeds separate because duck breeds, and Muscovy’s in particular, tend to be aggressive toward other breeds. At the end of the season we hope to have good evidence to favor one breed over the other, whether it is because of temperament, foraging ability, weight gain, or a combination of factors.

If you are interested in keeping up with our progress on this project, we encourage you to “like” us on facebook, follow us on twitter, or simply sign up at right to receive e-mail updates.  

Our thanks to Northeast SARE, the technical support of Ken Mudge and Roger Ort from Cornell, and for members of the Northeast Mushroom Growers Network for providing feedback during our initial survey.
Inquiries can be directed to steve@agroforestrysolutions.com.