FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., March 7, 2018 - Farmers in the United States face the daunting challenge of meeting ever-increasing production demands under the growing uncertainties of dramatically changing weather conditions, climates, and markets. Agroforestry – the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and livestock production systems – is one strategy that can enhance not only the resiliency, but also the productivity and profitability of agricultural operations and lands.
The USDA Forest Service has published a new report: Agroforestry: Enhancing Resiliency in U.S. Agricultural Landscapes Under Changing Conditions based upon a national scientific assessment of agroforestry. With contributions from more than 50 experts from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, this report presents the first-ever synthesis on agroforestry as a mechanism for improving the resiliency of farm lands.
“Agroforestry advances USDA’s strategic goals of facilitating rural prosperity and economic development by strengthening the stewardship of private lands through research,” said Forest Service Deputy Director of Research and Development Carlos Rodriguez. “This national report provides science-based information needed by farmers, decision-makers, and researchers to develop integrated agricultural strategies and production systems.”
“This report draws upon the most current science and shows how tree-based management strategies can improve agricultural production and resiliency, especially under increasingly changing environmental conditions,” said report co-author Gary Bentrup, a Forest Service research landscape planner with the USDA National Agroforestry Center.
Agroforestry practices like windbreaks and alley cropping, in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops, can reduce wind velocity, decrease erosion, and improve soil health. Silvopasture, which is the sustainable production of livestock, trees, and cattle on the same unit of land, allows trees to be managed for timber or other tree crops while providing shade and shelter for livestock. Riparian buffers – vegetated areas along streams and other water bodies – stabilize banks, reduce nutrient runoff, and provide shade that helps keep rising stream temperatures in check. Forest farming, or the cultivation of high-value crops like ginseng or shitake mushrooms under a forest canopy, is another agroforestry tool used to diversify farm portfolios and provide economic stability for landowners.
According to the report, well-designed agroforestry systems increase per-land-unit area productivity and can increase crop yields as much as 56 percent (see chart). These practices also support key nature-based benefits such as crop pollination, biological pest control, and habitat connectivity.
Agroforestry offers options that help farmers, ranchers, and communities balance the needs of meeting production goals in ways that both maintain future productivity as well as build the long-term resiliency that will be needed to tackle future weather and climate impacts. Not only do these practices bolster agriculture sustainability and landscape health, but they also help farmers hedge their bets against future challenges.
Two USDA Forest Service scientists from the Rocky Mountain Research Station Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Flagstaff, Arizona contributed to this report. There are chapters dedicated to each unique geography in the United States, including the Southwest.
To read the full Agroforestry: Enhancing Resiliency in U.S. Agricultural Landscapes Under Changing Conditions report, visit https://doi.org/10.2737/WO-GTR-96.
The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development. RMRS maintains 14 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale. To find out more about the RMRS go to www.fs.usda.gov/rmrs. You can also follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/usfs_rmrs.
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