Agroforestry Can Help Planet And Profits

Researchers say agroforestry systems offer a solution to helping combat climate change, feeding the world and increasing farmers’ profits.


Published:

Trees planted as windbreaks for crops in Minnesota, US.

© Eli Sagor via Flickr

Feeding the world’s growing population in a rapidly warming world will not be possible with modern intensive agriculture that relies on cutting down more forests to plant crops, according to new research.

The only way to produce enough crops and mitigate climate change at the same time is to adopt what the researchers have called agroforestry, a system of growing crops alongside trees and shrubs.

In a paper published in Sustainability journal, scientists from the department of crop sciences at the University of Illinois, US, say one of the most difficult aspects of the idea is changing farmers’ attitudes.

Adopting Agroforestry

Matt Wilson, a graduate student who has been talking to farmers about the ideas, says that there are cultural barriers in the US to adopting agroforestry practices – barriers that do not exist in Europe and elsewhere.

He says: “We’ve had some farmers share sentiments like: ‘Why should I plant trees? My grandpa spent his whole life tearing trees out so he could put crops in.’

“There’s definitely some perception that trees are not good in a farm landscape. And trying to overcome that has been a challenge.”

But the research has shown that intermingling traditional grain crops with fruiting shrubs and trees can make more profit for the farmer, as well as combating climate change, habitat loss, improving water and soil quality, and reducing problems such as flooding and soil erosion.

The researchers do not dismiss research into high-yielding crop varieties and the contribution made by organic farming to greater sustainability and feeding the world. However, they say that neither can do enough to provide sufficient food for the projected world population of nine billion. Nor will they help reduce the effects of climate change.

With more than a third of the world’s land already given over to agriculture, there is likely to be more deforestation and habitat loss in an effort to feed this growing population – making a bad situation worse, according to Sarah Taylor Lovell, an agro-ecologist at the University of Illinois.

Lovell and Wilson advocate five agroforestry systems:

  • Alley cropping − growing crops between rows of trees
  • Silvopasture – trees added to pasture systems
  • Riperian buffers – trees planted between field edges and river systems
  • Windbreaks – trees planted next to fields to shield them from the prevailing wind
  • Forest farming – harvesting or cultivating products such as mushrooms, medicinal herbs or ornamental wood in established forests

The plan is to produce a whole series of crops from the same land at different times of year − although some farmers were still resistant to the idea of trees because they feared these would shade crops and lower the yield. Properly-designed systems would not do this, the researchers claim. For example, the combination of winter wheat and walnut trees in an alley cropping system works well.

“Winter wheat grows in the late winter or early spring, but the walnut doesn’t leaf out until late spring,” Wilson explains. “So, when you mix the two together, you’ve got the benefit of having two crops growing in different parts of the year.”

The researchers say that some of these practices are already being adopted in Europe.

Long Timeframe

They accept that the long timeframe needed for trees to establish and mature may discourage some farmers, but they offer a strategy for the transition period. In an alley cropping system with hazelnut and chestnut trees, for example, they suggest growing edible shrubs and pasture between rows of crops.

Farmers can expect to start harvesting and selling hay almost immediately, and will start seeing fruit production from the shrubs within a couple of years. Eight to 10 years after establishment, trees will begin producing nuts.

“We’re looking at economic strategies to maximize profit from the very beginning,” Lovell says.

Despite the challenges, the researchers insist the environmental benefits are worth the trouble.

“If you have trees in a system, you’re holding soil, preventing runoff, and ameliorating greenhouse gas emissions,” Wilson says. “At the same time, you are getting a harvestable product.

“This combination of environmental services and agricultural production makes agroforestry an exciting opportunity both to feed the world and save the planet.”

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

May 26, 2020

Check in on family, friends and neighbors, especially elders and less privileged folks this morning. Kindness as well as charitable impulses are sustained by the Cancer Moon’s mid-morning trine with Neptune. For late sleepers, the same alignment may give…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

May 2020


Show More...
Show Less...

We invite you to join our Monday evening community group. We are creating this group to introduce Mindfulness and Compassion meditations to the broader population, and to support the graduates of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Join Spiritual Coach—Patti Anastasia RN—for this 1 hour webinar on why our ego gets a bad wrap…and how we can fix that!  Patti's unique coaching style will enlighten...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online Zoom Webinar
, MA


Sponsor: Anastasia's Health Happenings
Telephone: 978-621-8435
Contact Name: Patti Anastasia
Website »

More information

Join the Marion Institute each Thursday in May at 9am for Coffee with Dr. Hennie! Dr. Hennie Fitzpatrick from the BioMed Center New England will answer your questions about health care in the time...

Cost: Free

Where:
Zoom meeting
, MA


Sponsor: Marion Institute
Telephone: 508-748-0816
Contact Name: Patti Rego
Website »

More information

With Liam Galvin via Zoom Open to all levels from beginners to working mediums in the field and for anyone who wishes to maintain nurture and strengthen a strong connection to Spirit. Everyone...

Cost: $20

Where:
Online
, MA


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

Do you have interest in learning about homeopathy? Grab a cup of your favorite herbal tea and join Abby Beale in an informal virtual conversation over Zoom about homeopathy focusing on how it can...

Cost: Free

Where:
Zoom
, MA


Sponsor: Homeopathy Healings
Telephone: 413-426-1024
Contact Name: Abby Beale
Website »

More information

This workshop will be held online via Zoom. Reiki Master Teacher Libby Barnett, M.S.W., integrates her healing skills with past experience as a medical social worker at Massachusetts General...

Where:
Online via Zoom
, MA


Telephone: 603-654-2787
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags