Changing the future of food and farming

Agroforestry

Key research questions

  • How do you most effectively integrate trees into productive farmland?
  • How do you balance agricultural productivity with environmental protection including mitigating climate change?
  • How do you design an on-farm agroforestry system to ensure successful establishment and maximised benefits to the producer?

The importance of agroforestry

Agroforestry is a concept of integrated land use that combines elements of agriculture and forestry in a sustainable production system.

In its simplest form, agroforestry can be described as ‘growing trees on farms’ and includes the integration, both ecologically and economically, of the woody elements that may already be present in agricultural landscapes, such as hedgerows, windbreaks, buffer zones, trees in pasture, and small woodlands. At a greater level of complexity are agroforestry systems that are fully integrated structured systems where standard trees, orchard trees and/or coppice systems are grown in rows between crops or pasture in an alley-cropping design.

The focus of our agroforestry research is the evaluation of a range of agroforestry systems (including both crops and livestock) in terms of their productivity, environmental and economic impacts, and their potential for agri-environmental policy. There are both ecological and economic interactions between the trees and crops and/or livestock elements in an agroforestry system. These interactions can lead to higher productivity compared to conventional systems, and provide a wide range of services including soil management, microclimate modification, shelter, weed control, natural fencing, carbon sequestration and nutrient recycling.

Agroforestry systems also support the production of a wide range of varied products including, food, fuel, timber, fodder and forage, fibre, gums and resins, thatching and hedging materials, gardening materials, medicinal products, craft products, recreation and ecological services.

Alongside our work on integrated Agroforestry systems, we are also investigating the potential of hedges and other landscape elements as sources for biofuels and other products, generating an income to support their management and conservation.

Key elements of the theme

Agroforestry, silvoarable, silvopastoral, agrobiodiversity, productive hedges, alley cropping, shelterbelts, in field trees, farm woodlands.

Current projects

WOOFS: Woodchip For Fertile Soils

WOOFS is an EIP Operational Group of researchers, farmers and foresters from the UK. The group is led by ORC and aims to:
  • Determine whether applying woodchip (composted and un-composted) is beneficial to soil health and structure.
  • Identify an efficient methodology to produce and apply woodchip on farms.
  • Produce guidelines for farmers on optimum application rates, time of application, stage in a rotation, species of tree, size of chip etc

Agromix

AGROMIX aims to deliver participatory research to drive the transition to a resilient and efficient land use in Europe. It focuses on practical agroecological solutions for farm and land management and related value chains. For ORC we are delivering the project as a partnership between the business and markets and agroforestry teams:
  • AGROMIX makes use of a network of 83 sites with Mixed Farming (MF), AgroForestry (AF) or value chain stakeholder networks, which are used to measure, design, model, test and improve these systems
  • ORC is contributing data from one of the six core research sites that form part of the key project objective to quantify biophysical indicators of agroecosystem resilience at the plot scale. The project will make use of data from the fully replicated agroforestry trial at Elm Farm which combines short rotation coppice with silage and beef production.

Agroforestry ELMS Test

ORC are leading a Test and Trial on agroforestry as part of the development of DEFRA’s new environmental land management scheme. In partnership with the Woodland Trust, Abacus Agriculture and the Soil Association, the project will work nationally with farmers, foresters, land managers and other stakeholders to:
  • Test the feasibility of mechanisms to support and increase agroforestry uptake in England.
  • Explore with farmers and land managers advice and guidance requirements and payment incentives needed in order to implement agroforestry at scale

Relevant Publications

  • Smith, J., Pearce, B.D. and Wolfe, M.S. 2012. Reconciling productivity with protection of the environment: Is temperate agroforestry the answer? Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. doi:10.1017/S1742170511000585
  • The biodiversity impacts of establishing a silvoarable agroforestry system – Whitehall Farm, Cambs Ashden Trust
  • Eco-Agroforestry Network
  • Impacts of organic silvoarable systems on pest and disease distribution – Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Berkshire

ORC Researchers and staff

These ORC team members are currently involved in agroforestry projects:
Senior Livestock Researcher
Senior Agroforestry Researcher