April Fools: Korean Firm invests in Asian Buckthorn and Japanese Knotweed Agroforestry in Kent, Connecticut

This is an April Fools Day article. Happy Spring, everyone!

AFD Holdings LLC, owned by a group of Korean real-estate developers, plans to install a buckthorn-knotweed agroforestry system in Kent, Connecticut this May. Agroforestry is the intentional incorporation of woody perennials with food crops such as grains or grazing animals. Agroforestry systems, apart from adding a vertical element to farmland, can be highly profitable over the long term. They also sequester carbon, mitigate farm runoff, enhance biodiversity, and generally enhance ecosystem services. So often agriculture, forestry, and conservation are pinned against each other, but agroforestry shatters that tradeoff. In the face of a changing climate, vigorous species such as buckthorn and knotweed will provide fiber and medicine for generations to come.

 Buckthorn fruit is naturally dispersed by birds.

Buckthorn fruit is naturally dispersed by birds.

Buckthorn is an emerging feedstock in biomass production. The McNeil Power Plant in Burlington, Vermont provides for 30% of the city’s electricity needs. 9% of their wood chips come from buckthorn hedgerows in the area, up from 4% in 2009. Ramial wood chips made from buckthorn also serve as fertilizer for community gardens, apple orchards, and public parks. Local teens also use the tree’s black berries to make 100% natural tie-dye t-shirts.

Japanese Knotweed serves as important wildlife habitat, between the rows of buckthorn. Knotweed flowers in the fall, which is great for native pollinators and our beloved European honey bee. Dairy farm nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, though viewed as a threat to New England’s waterways, is another emerging opportunity. Knotweed cultivation in riparian zones will intercept eroded soil and lost fertility, turning pollution into profit. Knotweed is currently traded on California’s voluntary carbon market, which subsidizes planting and maintenance to the tune of $16,000 per acre per year.

Buckthorn-knotweed agroforestry is well suited to small-scale farming, on private property across New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. Many suitable parcels are currently hay fields that abut conservation land. The Buckthorn-knotweed system will turn these underutilized spaces into productive agricultural landscapes. Bringing biodiversity to these hayfields is paramount, and non-native species have a place in our agricultural system as well. It’s important to note that much of the food we eat is not native. While it would be patriotic to plant organic pawpaws, blueberries, and raspberries, biodiversity is important in a changing climate, and the human-assisted migration of species is one of the most promising endeavors of our time.

Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia raises pastured chickens and rabbits. These animals have access to fresh grass daily, but the markets for rabbit are saturated. Buckthorn-knotweed alley cropping systems can accommodate meat-frog tractors that will cater to the emerging frog-leg market. Cane toads are AFD Holdings’ species of choice. The incorporation of trees and grazing animals is known as silvopasture.

Each acre of buckthorn-knotweed agroforestry has a net present value of $49,000 per acre over 10 years, and an IRR of 22%. With buckthorn biomass pre-purchase agreements providing market certainty, AFD Holdings is actively seeking landowners to offer long-term leases for this innovative system.

Read more about agroforestry

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Harry Greene