Buffalo Trace Distillery and the University of Kentucky have joined forces on a 15-year research project to study the genetic responses of trees from various regions to different white oak forest establishment techniques in a rural field application.   

Buffalo Trace

The study, part of the White Oak Initiative, kicked off Monday with the planting of 1,066 trees on the farm at Buffalo Trace Distillery. Officials from the distillery and UK joined volunteers to plant seedlings from 40 different parent trees from Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. New seedlings will be added over the next two years from multiple states, with a goal of more than 104 different seed sources planted.

The white oak trees that were planted at Buffalo Trace will provide information on the best practices for establishing white oak seedlings that will be critical to the success of a massive white oak genetics and tree improvement effort spearheaded by the university and supported by white oak dependent industries. 

Six different establishment technique variations are being used for the plantings at Buffalo Trace, which include tilling with cover crop of orchard grass or winter wheat, use of herbicide, planting directly into the fescue and various irrigation methods for each technique. This is the first time irrigation has been combined with the different establishment techniques, making this site unique.

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“We’re excited to partner with UK on this project. It’s important that we look towards the future and how we can contribute to the sustainability of the white oak industry. The project will also assess the cost per board foot required to maintain a sustainable supply of new white oak long into the future,” said Dennis Walsh, homeplace manager at Buffalo Trace. 

Jeffery Stringer, UK professor and chair of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, agreed, adding, “This research project is vital to ensure success of our genetic and tree improvement efforts aimed at ensuring conservation of our white oak resources, not only for the economic future of the distilled spirits industry, but also the ecological benefits white oak adds to the forests and to human life.”

Buffalo Trace is considering adding tours in the future of its farm, which would include education about its participation in the White Oak Initiative. Long term, Buffalo Trace may be able to use some of the oak trees it has planted for future barrel experiments.  

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