The practice of integrating the cultivation of trees, crops and livestock on the same agricultural area for greater productivity and biodiversity.
TREES ADD ANOTHER DIMENSION
using vertical space increases yield, and enriches ecosystems
Livestock love interacting with trees, and they are an important part of most landscapes. They largely use them for:
SHELTER from rain, snow, wind and sun
FODDER including minerals and medicine
SCRATCHING for pleasure, coat and skin care
Sometimes people think growing trees will decrease the grass yield - and in some ways this is true, but the grasses under the tree also benefit from shelter and better soil, they just have to be more shade tolerant species = more grass diversity, winner! You also get all that lovely tree fodder, which the animals can eat from the tree (whatever they can reach), and which can be chopped fresh for them or preserved as tree hay for the winter months. So overall yield is increased.
Wildlife also benefits hugely from trees. So much food - pollen, nectar, fruit and nuts - and so many little homes and roosts! And as part of the 'wildlife' we enjoy some of the fruit and nuts, and use timber for our warmth and shelter too!
Hedges, shelterbelts, coppice, copses, orchards, food forests, riparian woods, natural regeneration, windbreaks and wooded pasture
- we'll try them all!
BENEFITS OF AGROFORESTRY
Provide fodder for livestock and increase their productivity
Leaves enrich the soil and help keep moisture in
Trees increase biodiversity, reduce deforestation and help us adapt to climate change
Roots stabilise the ground and reduce soil erosion
Trees improve soil fertility and crop productivity
The farmer gets food from the plants and animals
Nitrogen fixed by root bacteria benefits the crops
Trees provide firewood, timber and medicine
Trees absorb carbon from the air helping us mitigate climate change
Provide shelter from wind, sun, snow
Trees have cultural and psychological value
Make networks with mycorrhizal fungi between many plants
on farm tree nursery
Local trees and local seeds are very important. For my first year I bought trees from largely local suppliers, to get the range of species I wanted on the farm.
But I've also been saving and sowing seeds from local trees, and in time I'll save seeds from my own trees too - selecting from the ones that are particularly thriving.
My tree nursery will stock new hedges and woodland pasture, fill in gaps and create new copses. We're growing Rowan, Ash, Elder, Birch, Alder, Hawthorn, Roses, Hazel, Beech, Elm, Willows.
Since sowing these seeds (with germination being more successful than anticipated) I've become more and more interested in seeding hedges, shelter strips and riparian areas in situ - to see what happens! Surely trees that never have their roots disturbed and are immediately exposed to the mychorrizal fungi will be stronger than anything I plant? Experiments have begun...
Unfortunately the farm has been surrounded by spruce plantation for many years, so the seed bank has been contaminated - but once I've sorted the shelter on the east side of the farm, I will be leaving the west side as a mini rewilding area, and we'll see what happens...!
I have seen animals interact with trees in some form or another throughout my farming career - munching them, resting under them in the shade, scratching on the bark, dust bathing in the bare earth around them. Why wouldn't you have trees with livestock? It seems such an important part of their interaction with their surroundings.
Since then, I've read about the health benefits livestock get from eating tree fodder and having shelter, and the soil benefits that the deep roots and leaf litter bring. 'Even better!' I thought, and I have been planning my agroforestry farm ever since!