Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Agroforestry advocates try to debunk conventional wisdom that farming and trees don't mix

A demonstration project to help spur the growth of agroforestry - growing trees on the same land as crops to improve land values - has started in Montana. Gloria Flora, environmental consultant and former U.S. Forest Service supervisor, planted more than 300 trees on her farm north of Helena among crops of berries, edible flowers, grapes and medicinal plants. She says "the extensive tree canopy and the use of native plants make the garden more resilient in the face of a changing climate, needing less water, no chemical fertilizers and few, if any, pesticides," making the farm more sustainable than conventional agriculture, reports Jim Robbins of The New York Times.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture made a push in August to encourage agroforestry because it's a great way to "harness the ecological services that trees provide," Robbins writes. Experts say trees provide "all sorts of contributions to agriculture," like erosion prevention, fertilizer production, water filtration and species diversification. Cattle farmers can also improve income by selling timber and cooling cows in shade. When placed properly, studies have shown that trees can filter out 95 percent of sediment run-off from farm fields.

"There are several approaches to agroforestry," Robbins reports. "Grazing livestock under a canopy of trees is called silvo-pasture. In alley cropping, an ancient technique becoming more common in the U.S., rows of commercially valuable hardwood trees like oak are alternated with rows of corn, wheat or grasses for biofuel." He also reports the method is helping raise specialty crops like shiitake and oyster mushrooms and truffles. This method is a sophisticated form of land management, though, and advocates face an uphill battle to break down the conventional wisdom that trees and farming don't mix. (Read more)

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