250 farmers, foresters, landowners and researchers have come together to learn more about some of the UK’s leading agroforestry systems, at a dedicated conference exploring the benefits and practicalities of bringing more trees onto farmland, and taking farming into forests.
Agroforestry 2017, an event hosted by the Soil Association, the Woodland Trust and the Royal Forestry Society, was inspired by evidence that agroforestry can boost productivity and sustainability at once. By mixing farming and forestry, a well-managed agroforestry system can produce 40% more than if they are separate.
Speaking on the practical benefits of agroforestry, Sophie Churchill OBE, Royal Forestry Society President, said: “Combining trees with other crops gives farmers the opportunity to make their land even more productive, especially when they manage the trees from the beginning, with their aims and future customers in mind. All farmers need to focus on being competitive and sustainable, and the clever use of well-managed trees can really help both of these.”
Attendees at the conference heard how the need to tackle soil erosion and cope with climate change will make trees an ever more important ingredient for productive cropping and livestock farming. Speakers from France, Australia and around the world described how these practices are increasingly popular. British farmers who are already reaping the benefits of agroforestry shared their experiences. Slides from all the presentations are available at www.soilassociation.org/farmers-growers/agroforestry-conference/
David Brass from The Lakes Free Range Egg Co. Ltd in Cumbria is one of those already implementing agroforestry on his farm. Speaking at the conference he said: “At first, we were planting trees simply to encourage our hens to range, having recognised their inclination towards sheltered areas. But the benefits went far beyond that original motive and, as well as the undeniable improvements to the hens’ welfare, we’ve seen better soil water retention, more biodiversity and crucially a higher quality product.”
While the benefits of agroforestry seem clear and comprehensive, it is still unusual in the UK. One reason is because it is seen as a niche practice, but it could be boosted by more recognition and support for tree planting on farms in government policy.
Closing the conference Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust, said: “Agroforestry needs to be a mainstream component of a new fully integrated land management policy. The practical examples and robust evidence we have heard today of trees supporting farm businesses and new commercial opportunities are powerful tools with which to influence a new, post-Brexit policy. Collectively, we must secure polices that prevent trees on farms from continuing to fall through the cracks. We are calling on the Government to take a new and ambitious approach which tackles administrative blockages, harnesses innovative sources of funding and properly reflects the valuable interplay between trees, woods, forestry, farming and the environment.”