Agroforestry is the term used to describe the cultivation of both trees and other farming crops on the same area of land. The practice aims to grow trees and other agricultural products in a system that helps to preserve the environment and its resources while providing a sustainable and diverse economic model for the landowner. It is this interaction of different plant forms that sets agroforestry apart from traditional farming or forestry.
Types of Agroforestry
There are four principal classifications within agroforestry. Silvopasture introduces forage crops into a forest for animals to graze. Silvoarable combines woods with traditional arable crops, particularly winter varieties that can thrive in deciduous forests thanks to the increased light when foliage is gone. Forest farming harvests high-yield crops, including specialty mushrooms such as shiitake, nuts, honey and forest fruits. Forest gardening involves the cultivation of shrubs, flowers and perennial plants in a wooded setting.
Proponents of agroforestry say research during the past 20 years backs up the claim that the system can be better for the farmer and for the environment. The Agroforestry Research Trust in the United Kingdom argues that this approach is "more biologically productive, more profitable and more sustainable than forestry or agricultural monocultures." ART also points out that temperate agroforestry systems are functioning successfully around the globe.
In a world where forests are shrinking, agroforest farms benefit from having their own supplies of wood for all its uses. Also, the diverse nature of their operations offers increased security: should one crop fail, there is a fallback position from the others. Furthermore, the use of mixed crops and trees increases soil fertility. The trees help to prevent soil erosion while providing protection for farm animals against extremes of cold, heat and wind.
Among the principal problems with agroforestry is the management of the land in question. With such diverse use, the day-to-day farming issues are far more complex than in a straight forestry operation or monoculture farm. In addition, agroforests often see reduced yields as the smaller crops compete with the trees for light, water and nutrients from the soil. The use of farm machines is more difficult in the confined space of a forest.