What is agroforestry and why do we use it?
Agroforestry is simply farming by combining agriculture with productive trees, so that crops, trees, wildlife and animals are all integrated into one system.
Crops, trees and animals have been combined on the same area of land in the UK for centuries. Pigs were traditionally allowed to forage for acorns under broadleaved woodland and the practice was known as ‘pannage’. Trees were also pollarded (coppiced above waist height) to provide fodder for animals and wood fuel or poles. The pollarding allowed productive growth above the heads of grazing or browsing animals.
Since 1950, the practice of involving the management of more than one species on a given area of land has fallen into disuse. This is largely due to the separation of agriculture, fruit production, and forestry into distinct disciplines, as part of a more industrial and ‘efficient’ form of farming.
Why is it important?
Agroforestry is a more sustainable form of farming than monoculture cropping (planting only one type of crop in an area) as the mix of multiple species in the system leads to:
More sustainable food production
Agroforestry is very effective because it utilises different levels – the roots of trees reach deep into the ground to cycle nutrients and store carbon, while above ground, the trees protect crops and animals against the elements
More reliable yields
Trees add an extra crop that gives the farmer protection against poor harvests. Fruit, nuts, or timber can provide an alternative income stream if the main crop fails due to unlucky circumstances such as wet summers or mild winters.
More biodiversity and reduced pest problems
More diverse cropping systems reduce the need to use chemical sprays to control pests, because there are homes for many kinds of wildlife including “friendly predators”, who combat some of the pests that would otherwise eat or destroy crops.