How cattle ranchers can profit from planting trees


Katalin SolymosiEscrito por:

In agriculture it’s not often that you find a relatively simple way to increase production by up to 20%. Planting trees turns out to be one such way for cattle farmers. Cows like shade and grow much faster if they graze on pastures dotted with trees. Studies show that combining livestock herding and forestry on the same stretch of land can lead to an 8% to 20% increase in dairy and meat production in the Southern Cone region.

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Planting trees on pasture land can boost productivity in cattle farming by 20%

This is just one advantage of what experts call silvopastoral production systems – essentially, cattle farming on forestland. Aside from a series of environmental benefits, silvopastoralism comes with strong business incentives for landowners. Here are five of them:

Earn more

By combining cattle farming and forestry, farmers generate more income than they would be able to if they just focused on either business. Comfortable cows lead to more and higher-quality beef and milk.

While beef production in Paraguay may be profitable in the short run, long-term projections show that it is financially unsustainable. Profitability increases, however, as farmers grow more trees on pasture land for productive use, reaching an internal rate of return (IRR) of up to 18.6% according to IDB Group estimates.

Mapa suelos Paraguay

The green and blue areas in eastern Paraguay are considered ideal for silvopastoral production.

Fight climate change

When planted on degraded pasture land, trees capture significant amounts of carbon dioxide. A silvopastoral project in Colombia increased its carbon sequestration by about eight tons of CO2 for every hectare of land.

Silvopastoral systems can also benefit watersheds and biodiversity. In Paraguay, where biomass makes up a large percentage of the energy matrix, traceable timber from pasture land helps curb illegal logging for biomass.

Access finance

It is difficult for forestry companies to borrow money to invest in forest plantations because of their cash flow profile. Trees are harvested when they are mature, leaving plantations without income during the entire growth cycle, which takes a minimum of seven years. Bankers don’t like this risk. Adding cattle to the business generates revenue every year. The resulting cash flow allows ranchers to access finance and pay back a loan while they are waiting for their trees to grow.

Make more with less

By introducing forestry, ranchers maximize their land’s yield rather than expanding the pasture area to generate more income. Given the regional challenge of continued deforestation and forest degradation that can be observed almost in real time, this is an important benefit.

Sistema silvopastoral en Paraguay

Silvopastoralism has many benefits in agriculture. Cows like shade and grow faster with trees around.

Adapt to local conditions

Silvopastoral systems can be tailored to fit farmers’ needs by focusing more on tree growth or cattle productivity. Some farms in Paraguay emphasize timber production and plant trees more densely. Dairy farmers in Brazil, on the other hand, optimize for milk production. They plant trees further apart to allow more light for pastures while maintaining some shade for their cattle.

A recent study by the IDB Group concludes that large areas of Paraguay are suitable for this kind of combined production.

The IDB Group is holding an event at its offices in Asunción, Paraguay on May 13 where experts will discuss a study on the economic feasibility of silvopastoral systems based on examples from real farms. Business owners interested to learn more about silvopastoralism and whether it is a worthwhile investment for them can contact Sandra Benítez Pereira ( for further details.


photo credit:

Unique Forestry and Land Use


Last modified: Diciembre 8, 2017

3 Responses to " How cattle ranchers can profit from planting trees "

  1. Wim dice:

    Do you consider coconut fields with underplanting of Brachiaria spp. and Glyricidia fences as silvo pastoral? I any information available on the optimal planting distance of coconut to encourage pasture yield?
    Is there any experience with integral fertilizing both crops?

    • Katalin Solymosi dice:

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I would also consider the described system as silvo-pastoral, potentially a sequential one, if the pasture is used only after an extended period of time, when coconut trees are tall enough to allow enough light in the stands.

      I unfortunately have no data on the optimal spacing of coconut for brachiaria growth. In general, it depends on the primary business purpose.

      To give an indication, in the Paraguay case study, with fast growing exotic tree species, two mixed scenarios were analyzed: Silvopastoral system with emphasis on beef, or emphasis on timber. For beef, ie. pasture optimization, trees are planted at a low density of 320 trees per hectare in double rows with spacing of (5 x 2.,5) x 20 m . Only one thinning is applied in year 3, in which 50 % of the trees are cut. Pastures of P. maximum are implanted on 90 % of the land, as 10 % of the area is lost for the strips where trees are implanted, reducing the average stocking rate to 1.08 heads/ha. To prevent damages to the trees shortly after planting, cattle is not allowed to graze the pastures until year 2.
      For emphasis on timber, a density of 714 trees/ha to produce quality timber in a cycle of 12 years. Two thinnings are conducted in years 3 and 6, reducing tree density by 30 % and 60 % respectively (with 200 trees/ha as final density). Trees are planted in double rows with a spacing of (5 x 2) x 9 m. Pastures of P. maximum are implanted on 80 % of the areas due to the effective area loss for grazing, reducing the stocking rate to an average of 0.96 heads/ha. Beef production is expected to decrease, maintaining an average of only 53 % of the production throughout the forestry production cycle. Cattle are not allowed to graze the pastures until year 2.

      • Wim dice:

        Dear Katalin, I thank you very much for your fast and straight answer and new perspectives to me. To share my observations: For coconut they take about 5 years before grazing. In this perdiod the gras is usually cut. Considering the life time of coconut ~ 50 to 60 years, the farming system or ownership will change a few times while they are standing. So it should be very clear that the fodder production is benificial to the coconut production.

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