On the 22nd June, farmers, foresters, landowners, policy makers and researchers will descend on Cranfield for a day of practical and inspiring talks on the future of agroforestry – the practice of integrating trees with farming to enhance farm profitability and the environment.
The Agroforestry Conference is being organised by the Soil Association, the Royal Forestry Society and the Woodland Trust, with the support of the Farm Woodland Forum and Cranfield University. The event will highlight some of the outputs of the multi-nation AGFORWARD EU-project, managed by Cranfield University, which is supporting agroforestry innovation across Europe.
Dr Paul Burgess, coordinator of the AGFORWARD project and Reader in Crop Ecology and Management, will be co-delivering a session on one of the core challenges of agroforestry; routes to market for produce. He will be supported by Sophie Churchill (Royal Forestry Society) and Christophe Klotz (Agrivair).
On Friday 23rd June, Cranfield University will also host an associated event, titled Practical Agroforestry in the British Isles. This is being organised by the Farm Woodland Forum and will include a practical workshop on agroforestry and a field visit to an agroforestry system managed by Stephen Briggs.
Why do we need Agroforestry?
Agroforestry is a relatively simple idea, but it can provide large benefits to farmers and landowners. The greater rooting depth of the trees and complementary tree and crop canopies can increase land productivity by maximising the capture and use of light, nutrients and water and by reducing soil erosion. Examples include planting fruit trees within organic cereal crops, and hedges on livestock farms than can be used for woodfuel. By getting two or more crops from the same land, and growing upwards as well as at ground level, productivity is increased through maximising the benefits of light, nutrients and moisture. Examples include planting fruit tree alleys within cereal crops, and hedges on livestock farms that can then be used for wood fuel.
But there are more sophisticated aspects of agroforestry that can also reap benefits. For instance, Cranfield is working with the City of London to investigate the economics of “invisible fencing”. Invisible fencing allows people to enjoy areas of grazed countryside uninterrupted by electric wire fencing or other forms of barrier. The invisible fencing comprises buried electric fencing which is detected by cattle who wear specially designed collars.
A major review for the Land Use Policy Group that investigated 15 agroecological practices, highlighted the particular benefits of agroforestry for the ‘sustainable intensification’ of farming.
This 4-year, €6m AGFORWARD project has been working with farmers and land owners in 15 countries across Europe to identify how agroforestry practices – farming with trees – can create profitable, productive, and environmentally beneficial farming systems.
The 26-strong group of prestigious European and international institutions is being co-ordinated by Dr Paul Burgess, with support from Dr Anil Graves and Dr Kenisha Garnett. The project is providing recommendations for farmers on best practice on farming with trees. The results are also providing guidance on how individual countries and agricultural sectors can most effectively implement agroforestry.
In March 2017, a major paper was published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, which uses the ‘Land Use/Cover Area frame statistical Survey’ (LUCAS) dataset to determine the extent of agroforestry in the European Union. Read the full paper here (NB available until 09/05/17).
In April 2017, Dr Burgess produced an article titled ‘Agroforestry in the UK’ for the Royal Forestry Society, which explains the significance of agroforestry and how it contributes to productive and sustainable land use in the UK. He argues that it is desirable that government agricultural and land use policy, being developed amongst the Brexit negotiations, encourages multi-functional land uses such as agroforestry.
Map of Agroforestry research and demonstration sites in Europe.
Visit the AGFORWARD Community Facebook page.