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What is Agroforestry?

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  • Written By: H.R. Childress
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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Agroforestry is a type of land management in sustainable agriculture that combines traditional agricultural activities with forestry practices. Benefits of agroforestry include increasing and/or diversifying farm income, as well as improving soil and water quality and reducing erosion and flood damage. Major practices used in agroforestry include alley cropping, forest farming, riparian buffers, silvopasture, and windbreaks.

Alley cropping is a practice where an agricultural crop is grown between widely spaced rows of trees in order to either protect the crop or conserve the soil. Crops often used in alley cropping include wheat, corn, and soybeans. Hardwood trees are most often planted between the crops, though nut trees may also be used.

Forest farming is the practice of growing high-value specialty crops under a forest canopy. The forest canopy is modified to provide the correct level of shade to protect the particular crop being grown. Common crops produced in forest farming include ginseng, shiitake mushrooms, and decorative ferns. Forest farming may also provide habitat areas for certain types of wildlife. The trees in this type of agroforestry are most often hardwood.

A riparian buffer zone is an area of forest grown around a river or stream. Riparian buffers reduce the amount of pollutant runoff from surrounding lands that reaches the river, and also help control bank erosion and provide habitat for wildlife. Buffer zones may be naturally occurring or purposefully planted.

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Silvopasture is the combination of trees with pasture for livestock. The trees provide shade for the livestock, as well as another source of income for the farm. Generally, silvopastures are planted with some type of grass or legume for the livestock, and the trees are used for hardwood or as Christmas trees. Nut or fruit orchards may also be used as silvopastures.

Windbreaks are linear rows of trees and/or shrubs that may be used in both crop and livestock production. Their purposes may be any combination of protection from winds, reduction of erosion, and enhancement of production. Windbreaks may also serve as snow fences during the winter.

Almost any type of crop or livestock production may benefit from agroforestry practices. The types of trees used in agroforestry vary, but they are usually chosen to provide benefits beyond simple protection of the crop or livestock. Tree types may be chosen to produce a market product, such as fruits, nuts, or timber, or types may be chosen that provide fodder to livestock or that help to keep the soil healthy.

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