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Agroforestry 2017 - Helping Farmers Grow

Agroforestry 2017 - Helping Farmers Grow

On the morning of Thursday 22nd June, 250 farmers, foresters, landowners and researchers came together at Cranfield University to learn more about some of the UK’s leading agroforestry systems at a dedicated conference exploring the benefits and practicalities of bringing more trees onto farmland, and taking farming into forests.

Agroforestry 2017 – an event hosted by the Soil Association, the Woodland Trust and the Royal Forestry Society – was inspired by evidence that agroforestry can boost productivity and sustainability at the same time. By mixing farming and forestry, a well-managed agroforestry system can produce 40% more than if they are separate.

Attendees at the conference heard how the need to tackle soil erosion and cope with climate change will make trees an ever more important ingredient for productive cropping and livestock farming. Speakers from France, Australia and around the world described how these practices are increasingly popular. British farmers who are already reaping the benefits of agroforestry also shared their experiences.

David Brass from The Lakes Free Range Egg Co. Ltd in Cumbria is one of those already implementing agroforestry on his farm. Speaking at the conference he said: “At first, we were planting trees simply to encourage our hens to range, having recognised their inclination towards sheltered areas. But the benefits went far beyond that original motive and, as well as the undeniable improvements to the hens’ welfare, we’ve seen better soil water retention, more biodiversity and crucially a higher quality product.”

While the benefits of agroforestry seem clear and comprehensive, it is still unusual in the UK. One reason is because it is seen as a niche practice, but it could be boosted by more recognition and support for tree planting on farms in government policy.

Closing the conference, Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust, said: “Agroforestry needs to be a mainstream component of a new fully integrated land management policy.  The practical examples and robust evidence we have heard today of trees supporting farm businesses and new commercial opportunities are powerful tools with which to influence a new, post-Brexit policy. Collectively, we must secure polices that prevent trees on farms from continuing to fall through the cracks. We are calling on the Government to take a new and ambitious approach which tackles administrative blockages, harnesses innovative sources of funding and properly reflects the valuable interplay between trees, woods, forestry, farming and the environment.”

The Soil Association has identified six game-changing ideas for the future of British farming after we exit the EU. One of these is an agroforestry strategy that includes:

  • A target of agroforestry on 50% of all farms by 2030.
  • Clear ownership and accountability within government.
  • Capital grants and maintenance payments.
  • Fiscal measures and procurement policies to grow the domestic market.
  • Incentives for longer term farm tenancies.
  • Investment in research, knowledge exchange and advice.

Tom MacMillan, Director of Innovation at the Soil Association, said: “Our understanding of agroforestry’s potential for farm businesses, soils and tackling climate change grows all the time. One reason there isn’t targeted support for it in England is that policy-makers judged there was little demand. The turnout at this conference speaks for itself with farmers and landowners now showing strong interest, and the early adopters inspiring examples, of how to make agroforestry work. The next challenge is to make it normal. That’s why we’re calling for a robust agroforestry strategy from government that supports this from research right through to getting trees in the ground and products to market.”

You can view the slides from the conference here.