Agroforestry is a popular word right now in farming, though it's been practiced throughout human history with agriculture. It’s simply the intentional practice of integrating forest trees and shrubs into farming systems. This style of farming is done for many reasons:
environmental - to sequester carbon and create habitat
to maximize space by combining multiple “crops” in the same area
to diversify crops which can counter the unpredictable effects of weather, pest, or market variability.
to increase product yields - we’re beginning to understand how plants interact with each other when grown in close proximity to one another, specifically, there can be benefits with soil health and providing shelter from wind
The USDA defines specific agroforestry practices as:
Alley cropping means planting crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature. The system can be designed to produce fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, herbs, bioenergy feedstocks, and more. This type of system may also be called intercropping when the trees and crops are not in defined rows and alleys.
Forest farming operations grow food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy that is managed to provide ideal shade levels as well as other products. Forest farming is also called multi-story cropping.
Silvopasture combines trees with livestock and forage on one piece of land. The trees may provide timber, fruit, fodder, or nuts as well as shade and shelter for livestock and their forages, reducing stress on the animals from the hot summer sun, cold winter winds, or a downpour.
Riparian forest buffers are natural or re-established areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses. These buffers can help filter farm runoff while the roots stabilize the banks of streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds to prevent erosion. These areas can also support wildlife and provide another source of income.
Windbreaks shelter crops, animals, buildings, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors. These areas can also support wildlife and provide another source of income. They are also called shelterbelts, hedgerows, vegetated environmental buffers, or living snow fences.
At Raising Cane Ranch, we use all these types of agroforestry. Simply put, we love trees and birds. We’d rather plant a hedgerow along our property line than build a fence. When we first bought our farm, there were fields of grass and only a handful of trees in our yard. We hardly saw animals and birds on the property. Now, after living here for over 15 years we have planted ~5,000 trees and shrubs and the farm is home to a diverse species of animals!
Projects at RCR:
Hedgerows of native plants and windbreaks along farm boundaries
Conservation Riparian Enhancement Program (CREP) with native plants to purify the water in a drainage ditch at the back of the property
Alley cropping of hay in a cider apple orchard
2 acres of food forest for UPICK customers and sourcing ingredients for hard cider production
Silvopasture for Highland cattle herd
If you’re interested in any of the agroforestry practices mentioned above at your location, checkout these resources:
Snohomish Conservation District - Agroforestry