Agroforestry: How trees can work on your farm

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

The Organic Research Centre hosted a lively workshop on the 26th February at Elm Farm exploring how trees can work on farms using an agroforestry approach. Supported by the Woodland Trust (and with funding from the RDPE via Defra and the European Union), this workshop brought together foresters and farmers to discuss the benefits and challenges of integrating working trees into the agricultural landscape. To encourage sharing of information, expertise and experiences between the ‘tree’ and ‘farm’ camps, a brainstorming session came up with a list of questions for each sector (summarised below). After visiting the silvopastoral system and new tree planting locations on Elm Farm, the participants split into four design teams, and developed plans for new agroforestry systems using case study farms that ranged from an upland sheep/beef farm in Shropshire to a horticultural enterprise in Devon. What was evident from the day was that there is a wealth of experience and knowledge of working with trees on farms, and while there are many research gaps, we should aim to work together to promote the value of agroforestry for production and environmental protection.

Questions from the farmers to the foresters:

  • Planting distances – tree and veg crops
  • Skills- how to get involvement
  • Start-up funding
  • Income – speed and improve
  • Windbreaks – distances and management
  • Agroforestry system options – type/width
  • Animal nutrition – tree fodder is good or bad?
  • Weed control – during establishment
  • Tenancy periods
  • Managing tree roots – getting them to go deep and not horizontal
  • Managing tree canopies – pruning to minimise shade
  • Mulch periods and types
  • Poplars and arable – varieties and management
  • Alders – N fixing varieties and density
  • Fruit trees – types for agroforestry
  • Tree species/plant combinations that work well
  • Managing hazel coppice for nut production, biomass and windbreak
  • Different varieties of nut trees that grow well in the UK
  • Walnut varieties and quality
  • Tree species – potential for potting compost
  • Tree guards – selection

Questions from the foresters for the farmers

  • How flexible is your farming system
  • Have you noticed the weather negatively affecting your farm productivity?
  • What do you want from planting trees on your farm?
  • What products can you sell?
  • Will trees add value to your marketable products?
  • How do you get new markets for products?
  • What is the evidence you need to plant trees?
  • Are you aware of other farmers doing this?
  • What do you need to trial trees? Advice/money?
  • What kind of demonstration farm would help?
  • Who would you like to get advice from?
  • Could agroforestry be a benefit to your shoot?
  • What scale of planting are you prepared to plant?

Knowledge gaps

  • Access to information
  • Advisory expertise – planning, management, financial
  • Demonstration farms
  • Productivity/financial evidence
  • List of agroforestry farms/network
  • Development of a questionnaire/design structure when developing new agroforestry systems.

Sources of further information

Here are some useful Woodland Trust publications

More on the grants available to plant trees on farms see Funds to plant trees and the Woodland Trust webpage

More Woodland Trust publications here

Sign up to our e-Bulletin

Sign up to ORC’s e-bulletin and be the first to receive updates from our in-the-field research and the latest organic and agroecological news and events. Delivered to your inbox monthly.

Newsletter signup

By submitting this form, you are agreeing for us to contact you by email about our research, knowledge exchange, policy support and fundraising. Your details will only be used by the Organic Research Centre (ORC) in adherence with our Privacy Policy.

If you would like to change how you receive communications from the ORC or update your contact details, please click the appropriate link at the footer of any email you receive from us, or contact: