What is Agroforestry?

Agroforestry is the combination of food crops and or livestock with trees or shrubs in one area of land. This combination can cause positive ecological and economic interactions between the different systems.

There are three main Agroforestry systems:

  • Trees with arable crops (silvoarable systems),
  • Trees with animal husbandry (silvopastoral systems) and
  • Trees with both arable crops and animal husbandry (agrosilvopastoral systems)

Agroforestry isn’t limited to energy crops of course. Fruit trees and valuable wood types can also be combined with traditional farming types. Within these categories there are many diverse forms of agroforestry systems.

Energy Crops Consultancy is currently involved in pioneering research into this exciting farming method. We are currently planting a combination of SRC Willow and SRC Poplar to trial their effectiveness when combined with arable  – the only site in the UK at present. You can read more about ECC’s work in this field here.

Agroforestry enhances the known biodiversity benefits of marginal border-structures in farming: hedgerows and headlands etc, as these border areas are shown in multiple research papers to be the greatest improver of biodiversity.

Silvopastoralism is of particular interested to willow growers. SRC plantations generally need very little in the way of inputs, whether fertiliser or herbicide/pesticide. Allowing livestock to graze in and around established SRC crops is an excellent soil nutrient improver as the dung from the animals is placed precisely where it needs to be, without costly (and smelly!) machine-based spraying. You can read Gareth Gaunt’s thoughts on this topic here.

Chickens and other avian farm species are very much at home amongst SRC wood species. Sheep and pigs also enjoy grazing in SRC plantations.

This image clearly shows everything you need to know about energy through agroforestry!

An ECC step-planter operator planting Willow and Poplar rods as part of the UK’s first combined SRC/arable agroforestry plantation. Poplar rods are on the left, Willow rods on the right.