Agroforestry Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture
Agroforestry as a dynamic, ecologically based, natural resources management system that, through the integration of trees on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits for land users at all levels. There are four key criteria that characterize agroforestry practices and distinguish them from other practices. In order for a practice to be considered agroforestry the following criteria need to be clearly identified in the practice:
Intentional - combinations of trees, crops and/or livestock intentionally designed, established and managed to work together and yield multiple products and benefits
Intensive - practices are intensively managed to maintain productive and protective functions
Integrated - components are combined into a single integrated management unit tailored to meet objectives of the landowner
Interactive - manipulates and utilizes the biophysical interactions among components to yield multiple harvestable products, while concurrently providing numerous conservation and ecological benefits
Agroforestry in Agro-Ecosystems
In Canada, the role of agroforestry is linked to the need to lessen environmental impacts of modern agriculture and balance productivity and environmental stewardship. For agroforestry to be successful it must offer viable options that are compatible with production agriculture and involve minimal tradeoffs to producers. Agroforestry must be economically viable and add value to the land. The bottom line for agroforestry is to be able to locally apply practices that generate predictable and positive interactions and optimize them for the benefit of the farmer and society as a whole.
Shelterbelts are linear features of agro-ecosystems comprised of trees and/or shrubs that form part of an agriculture production system. This includes trees and/or shrubs planted or retained as a barrier to reduce wind speed and to protect crops, livestock, buildings, work areas and roads from wind and snow as well as enhance biodiversity. Shelterbelts can be located around farmsteads, adjacent to roadsides, on the boundaries or within fields or around livestock facilities.
Strips of permanent vegetation consisting of trees, shrubs and grasses planted or managed between agricultural land and water bodies to reduce runoff, and non-point source pollution, stabilize streambanks, improve aquatic and terrestrial habitats.
This practice involves the growing of an annual or perennial crop between rows of high value trees. The agricultural crop generates annual income while the longer term tree crop matures.
This practice combines growing trees for wood products with pasture and livestock production. These systems either have trees added to existing pasture or involve thinning an existing forest stand and adding or improving a pasture. The trees are managed for their timber value and at the same time provide an enhanced microclimate for livestock.
To be effective agroforestry practices need to be properly integrated with agricultural production. The goal is to have the landowner understand that agroforestry adds both economic and environmental value to their operation. Farmer acceptance is critical otherwise nothing happens, therefore we emphasize benefits to the individual farm (ie. preventing soil erosion, maintaining, stabilizing and/or increasing production, diversifying income and improving quality of life). To meet this challenge we:
- Foster understanding of the ecological interactions generated by trees
- Through proper design minimize undesirable interactions with production systems
- Determine the best mix and arrangement of agroforestry practices to meet landowner goals
Implementation of agroforestry provides the“green infrastructure” of sustainable agriculture systems. This infrastructure occupies a small footprint in the landscape, but provides system benefits that are critical in achieving on-farm sustainability. For example, keeping soil in place, maintaining water quality, sequestering carbon, providing buffer zones and corridors, enhanced biodiversity, pollination services and income diversification can all be accomplished by simply integrating agroforestry practices with crop production.
At Agroforestry Solutions we can help producers, landowners, conservation and watershed groups plan and implement agroforestry practices that meet their needs and complement modern farming practices.