In simple terms, agroforestry is a new/old way of thinking about planting your land. It includes integrating a number of farming systems that, according to the USDA, are intended to “enhance the nation’s economy and its agricultural landscapes, watersheds, and communities.” Here are some thoughts on agroforestry practices.
From the very beginning, consider how you want your farm to be and put your plans into action.
- Agroforestry Practices
- The Evolution of Food Production Systems
- Development of the Agroforestry Concept
- Starting toward Agroforestry Farming Practices
- How to Adopt Agroforestry Practices
- The Five Categories of US Agroforestry
- The Future
The Evolution of Food Production Systems
Agriculture and food production have been developing with man and society since the early days. The act of planting and harvesting is fundamental to human existence, but with the time and evolution of society and the growth of cities, the modern human has begun to buy his food and lose contact with nature. Some people today believe their food comes from the grocery store. Agroforestry can bring humanity back into contact with nature, a connection with the land.
Food systems have also had major changes. After the industrial revolution started and the population growth of the mid-19th century, people began to move to the cities. The result was a very large demand for food with fewer people producing it. Science began to develop methods to increase productivity in the field. Then came the green revolution, which brought monoculture, the use of machines, and pesticides in order to have higher productivity.
However, the concern only with high productivity caused people to forget to care for the environment and the preservation of nature. With this came numerous problems such as soil erosion, loss of soil nutrients, contamination of water and soil, health problems for workers, increased climate change, and many other issues we are seeing today. Sustainable agriculture it was not.
In the midst of this whole scenario of environmental degradation, farmers, concerned about future generations, began to develop techniques for sustainable agriculture. The agroforestry system has revolutionized all conventional agriculture. It is about planting multiple crops, with the aim of increasing the biodiversity of any site.
Development of the Agroforestry Concept
Agroforestry imitates the logic of nature and its natural systems, of respecting each species and its productive cycle which includes rotation. It is possible to produce fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, herbs, bioenergy raw materials, and much more within the same system, respecting the spacing and the need for light of each.
It is a sustainable system that has been changing the lives of crop producers, who have been making the ecological transition from the conventional model to agroforestry. Agroforestry has been bringing quality of life to all by adopting sustainable agricultural practices.
The concept is growing more popular these days, with the help of a Swiss living in Brazil called Ernst Götsch, a great exponent and enthusiast of agroforestry and sustainable agriculture. He developed the idea of Syntropic Agriculture, which means accumulating energy in the system. His concept is simple: “Working with nature and not against it, through strategies that look like the way natural ecosystems work. ” Just add into your system a service crop or cover crop, to be pruned and thrown into the soil on the planting lines. By throwing the “waste” back onto the ground is fundamental to generating organic matter, increasing soil fertility and soil microbial life, as well as water quality. In addition you are preserving natural resources and natural ecosystems. This is sustainable agriculture.
Maybe it’s the solution for the future the productive land to be mulch-covered soil to aid sustainable agriculture practices. Nature is our natural resource base, and we must observe it to learn its own practices, using all its hidden knowledge behind its greatness. Nature is made of cycles. We just need to understand the life cycle of each plant we are using and adjust the development of the agroforestry system by knowing how to rotate crops to get the best outcome.
Agroforestry vs Conventional Systems
We are almost 8 billion people, and that takes an immense productive force to serve everyone. It is unbelievable that with high technology in food production, we see regions where hunger affects people.
Monoculture and conventional farming have devastated much of our forests and left the soil infertile and lifeless. Commodity crops are produced through tillage and artificial fertilizers, while ignoring other methods of production. Modern man has been distancing himself from his origins in the natural environment for at least the last 100 years.
Agroforestry recognizes that the forest deserves to be respected and preserved, especially for what it can do for humanity. In addition to preserving, we can produce sustainable food systems and plant forests together in the same system, using sustainable practices to have environmental quality.
The producer of the new millennium must be aware of these changes. With all our technological equipment conquered in recent decades, we can include this new model of agroforestry and have a sustainable agriculture environment, free of poisons. It can add value to the life of the producer, while bringing well-being, health, and diversity of income. It is possible to produce food, have economic equity, and support positive environmental outcomes.
Starting toward Agroforestry Farming Practices
Soil is the basis of our existence and fundamental to sustainable agriculture. It is the fundamental element for plants to take away all the nutrients needed for life. It is composed of infinite biological diversity.
Therefore, improving soil fertility is the key to agroforestry development. Using cover crops and crop residues is essential for the success of agroforestry, maintaining moisture and nutrients and reducing soil erosion.
Agroforestry is wonderful because it is possible to create drought-resistant farming systems, avoiding nutrient runoff.
How to Adopt Agroforestry Practices
To implement agroforestry practices on your farm, start by studying the biome of your region. Which are typical local plants? Analyze the processes of nature in your area. How do these typical local plants survive?
Next, consider the pruning and felling of organic matter for this is the key to the success of agroforestry. It chooses service species to supply organic matter; grass between the tree lines works very well for soil cover by using the plant residue and preventing the growth of weeds. As a result, you will have reduced the volume needed for your irrigation systems.
From there, study which species of plants can be used together in agroforestry. The species are divided by strata, ranging from low to high, depending on the need for light for each plant. It is possible to plant vegetables with perennial crops, each in its production cycle. It all depends on the spacing of each plant. It is also possible to cultivate rotating crops, depending on the seasons.
The Five Categories of US Agroforestry
If you plan on instituting agroforestry on your land, your efforts must meet the four “Is”: Intentional, Intensive, Integrated, and Interactive. All of these efforts must be applied to one or more of the five types of agroforestry in the united states.
Also called intercropping, you would plant crops between or beneath the trees. You could use all types of plants, including grains, vegetables, flowers, herbs, or any other plant that could survive in shade or partial shade. These crops can provide short-term income while the trees mature. You can plant in rows or alleys or whatever works on your land.
If you like raising livestock, you can very easily combine your interest with agroforestry by doing a silvopasture. In one pasture, you will use livestock, forage, and trees. Free range chickens work well in this environment. The beauty of this system is that the trees perform a number of positive functions for your livestock by giving them shade and protecting them from inclement weather.
Again under your trees with their shade canopy and other nutritional products, you can grow all types of plants such as herbs, vegetables, fruits, or even decorative crops. Another name for this type of farming is multi-story cropping.
Windbreaks have become much more popular since the dust-bowl days of the 1930s because we have learned that using a windbreak can preserve topsoil. Usually planted in five rows with varying heights on the different rows, a windbreak can provide shelter for animals and buildings, as well as can preserve topsoil and snow (for retained moisture).
What is also nice about a windbreak is that it becomes a simple wildlife refuge where birds and animals can take shelter. Other names for a windbreak include living snow fences, vegetated environmental buffers, hedgerows, or shelterbelts.
Riparian Forest Buffers
If you have a stream or pond on your land, a riparian forest buffer is the grasses, trees, and shrubs at the edge of the water. This type of buffer has a very valuable task: to filter farm runoff. In addition, the roots of these plants will stabilize the banks of the water and stop most erosion. Once again, these buffers become a simple wildlife habitat.
You have to develop the techniques and optimize the practices to make this agroforestry system have economic viability. You have a great advantage when you produce without pesticides. Your health is better, your environmental health is better, and you end up with a food system of high value.
Your land will benefit. It becomes a very green, pleasant place, even in drought areas, and can have high biodiversity of wildlife around you.
It is also possible to combine plant and animal production, bringing together animal welfare and the preservation of nature. The Silvopasture System produces wood, pasture, and animal husbandry. The shade generated by the trees significantly reduces the stress of the animals. Many cattle-producing farms concerned about the environment are adopting this system, managing to reduce carbon dioxide production.
Let’s look to the future. We will gradually leave the conventional tillage and adopt agroforestry as the main agenda for the preservation of the environment and carbon sequestration.
Agroforestry is a farming system that is available to everyone, from the big to the small producer. Agroforestry allows a diversification of crops, which gives stability to the bottom line of the producer. The animal production practices of agroforestry assist rather than degrade our environment. Even in developing countries where everything is more difficult, agroforestry is an alternative that allows social and economic equity.
If you are tired of the outdated methods of a monoculture full of pesticides, agroforestry is the right way to go. Think like the forest and all its biodiversity: different species of trees, plant, and animals living together in harmony. It is possible to recover degraded areas, by putting into practice sustainable agriculture through agroforestry.
It is the future of sustainable farming for a world where we have increasingly scarce resources.
About the Author
Caio Amorim is the Director of Serra do Mar Farm of Brazil. He is a producer of free-range eggs. His mission: He is in the search for healthy agriculture, combining food production with animal welfare and nature preservation.