Whether conventional, organic, regenerative, agroecological, or any other flavour of farming, it seems more and more farmers are getting interested in agroforestry. I’m not sure what it is, but the idea of integrating trees within crop or livestock operations seems to transcend many of the usual polarities found in conversations around food system change.
At FarmED in the Cotswolds I developed the ‘Agroforestry Living Textbook’ to showcase inspiring agroforestry systems for arable, livestock and horticultural operations. As a demonstration farm and education centre FarmED wanted to use their land to test different types of agroforestry to help farmers and other land stewards think about how they could integrate trees on their land. The different agroforestry systems will offer demonstrations of silvopastoral, silvoarable and silvohorticulture systems, with plans for the addition of food forests in the future. Each of these systems aim to provide inspiration to those interested in agroforestry.
Silvoarable & Silvopasture
In FarmED’s 8-year arable rotation demonstration (split across eight adjacent plots) rows of native broadleaf tree species have been planted to provide wind shelter and nutritional browse for the sheep and cattle that mob-graze the herbal leys and cover crops. The trees will also be coppiced for woodchip and to maximise light availability during cropping years. Species mixes have been selected with comparable growth rates to be able to demonstrate different coppice rotations.
An important design consideration for this silvopastoral/silvoarable system has been to plan coppice schedules to minimise shade for the arable crops while maximising browse and shelter for the livestock during grazing periods of the rotation. The crop alleys were set to 32m to align with farm machinery widths, and the tree rows were set at 3m. Trees were planted 1m apart.
Over in the market garden, I worked with resident CSA, the Kitchen Garden People, to create diverse food producing tree alleys. By integrating fruit trees and shrubs as well as perennial vegetables, the CSA hopes to extend their growing season to provide more food for their members while also attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects to support their vegetable production.
We planted over 250 different fruit trees to enable the CSA to provide a wider diversity of produce to their members throughout the year. As the market garden plots run roughly north east to south west we have planted the fruit trees in a wave form with smaller rootstock on the southern most side and large standards on the north. Interplanted between the fruit trees are a selection of native broadleafs to provide habitat for beneficial insects.
Three shelterbelts were planted as part of a research project with Farm & Wildlife Advisory Group and the Tree Shop. These shelterbelts are ‘optimised’ in terms of using narrow 5m strips of land to slow wind speeds by 50%. 14 different species of tree have been planted in the mixture to provide shelter from the winds while also providing habitat for wildlife.
FarmED are also grazing sheep under the fruit and nuts trees in their orchard, demonstrating how livestock can be integrated into existing tree crop systems, not just the other way round. Possible future plans for the ‘Living Textbook’ include understory planting of soft fruits in the orchard tree lines, and a forest garden which will serve to produce food and an inspiring outdoor learning environment embodying a number of ecological principles.
If you’d like to design agroforestry systems for your land then get in touch to discuss your ideas.