Agroforestry integrates trees with other ag practices
Forests and farms may seem like two completely different things, but agroforestry puts them together.
Agroforestry offers landowners an opportunity to diversify farm income, provide habitat for wildlife and practice good land stewardship, says Tim Baker, regional horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
“Agroforestry involves the intentional integration of trees with other aspects of agriculture,” Baker said. “There’s not only a place for foresters in agroforestry, but also row crop, livestock and even horticultural producers.”
Agroforestry concentrates on five main practices: alley cropping, forest farming, silvopasture, riparian buffers and windbreaks.
“Alley cropping is the practice of planting crops in between rows of trees,” Baker said. “It may seem counterproductive for a farmer to plant trees in a field, and in most cases this is not what a farmer wants or needs. However, sometimes it makes sense.” In the early years, crops are harvested between the rows of trees. Later, lumber and/or nuts and other crops may be harvested from the trees as they mature.
Common alley cropping plantings include wheat, corn, soybeans or hay planted between rows of black walnut or pecan trees, he said. Nontraditional or value-added crops might include sunflowers or medicinal herbs between rows of nut trees alternated with nursery-stock trees. Fine hardwoods like walnut, oak, ash and pecan in alley cropping systems can potentially provide high-value lumber or veneer logs while the landowner derives income from a companion crop planted in the alleyways.
Forest farming is the practice of growing high-value specialty crops under the protection of a forest canopy. “There are many shade-tolerant crops that can be grown within a forest. Some of these are quite valuable,” Baker said.
Forest crops like ginseng, mushrooms and decorative ferns are sold for medicinal, culinary and ornamental uses. “Or your entire planting may be of woody species that produce food, such as nut crops or elderberries,” he said.
Silvopasture is the integration of livestock and pasture under trees. “This is not simply turning the livestock out into the woods,” Baker said. “It is truly a well-designed rotational grazing system, benefiting both the trees and the livestock.”
In a typical silvopasture practice, perennial grasses and/or grass-legume mixes are planted between rows of trees for livestock pasture. The trees not only provide a long-term investment for nut crops or a timber harvest, but also provide the animals shade in the summer and a windbreak in the winter.
Riparian forest buffers deal with areas along stream banks and other waterways. Farmers losing cropland to streams might create a buffer with trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs to prevent erosion. “In extreme cases, it may take some engineering practices to help stabilize the stream bank,” Baker said.
Windbreaks can protect livestock and crops, and control soil erosion. Windbreaks can help keep drifting snow away from roads or spread snow more evenly across a field, increasing spring soil moisture.
You can learn more about agroforestry at an Oct. 5 field day at the MU Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center in New Franklin. For more information about the event, call the center at 660-848-2268.
A variety of information and resources on agroforestry are available from the MU Center for Agroforestry at www.CenterForAgroforestry.org.
More gardening and horticulture information from Tim Baker is available at extension.missouri.edu/nwregion/hort/.