New programme to promote climate, nature and business benefits of farming with trees
Soil Association Scotland has received funding for a new short programme to showcase the benefits of agroforestry – farming with trees – in Scotland.
Agroforestry in Action has received £30,000 from the Scottish Government’s Knowledge Transfer and Innovation (KTIF) fund to run a series of webinars and develop an online agroforestry hub of ‘how to’ resources. Scottish Forestry and the Woodland Trust are also contributing to the programme.
Agroforestry as key to more sustainable agriculture
Programme lead Bruce Pearce, acting Senior Farming Programmes Manager at Soil Association Scotland, says agroforestry is key to a more sustainable future for agriculture.
He says: "Agroforestry – by which we mean integrating trees into farming, according to the principle of the right tree in the right place – is a vital, viable way farmers can help us restore climate and nature, from the ground up.
“Trees can store carbon, improve soil health and biology, provide shelter and forage for livestock and wildlife, and give farmers additional income. Through our Agroforestry in Action programme, we will share Scotland-specific best practice and resources and work with Woodland Trust Scotland and Scottish Forestry to enable more tree planting on farms."
Three free webinars in February and March will cover agroforestry and crofting (Feb 11); how to integrate trees into different farming systems (Feb 25) and funding for agroforestry (March 11).
Agroforestry for crofters
Crofter Phil Knott, who will be part of the first webinar, says he and partner Laura chose ten-acre Wildlife Croft on Skye five years ago because it had trees. They have since planted 3500 more, including fruit.
“We wanted a protective space,” says Phil. “If you’re on the west coast, shelter – from the gales and salt winds - is key for everything. It gives us more options for growing. The trees enrich the soil, through leaf litter, and they add to nutrient cycling, so day by day we know our soil is improving.”
The croft already produces more apples than the family can eat, and Phil and Laura plan to eventually produce food to sell, including livestock and vegetables, once soil health and biodiversity are further established.
Agroforestry for farmers
At the other end of the scale, Farmer Ambassador working with the Soil Association, Johnnie Balfour, manages 1350 hectares of mixed cereals and vegetables, pasture-fed beef cattle and forestry at AHDB Strategic Cereals Farm, Balbirnie Home Farms, in Fife. He already grazes cattle in trees, but will be planting an agroforestry orchard of 1500 fruit trees next winter, as part of an agroecological system.
“We are trying to integrate all of our enterprises,” he says, “so we’ll have arable and forestry together in the orchard. We have arable and livestock together, which means planting cover crops and grazing them, with livestock bringing fertility to the soil. With forestry and livestock together, the livestock help cycle the nutrients and the forestry brings shelter, shade and variety to their diets.
“We’re bringing everything together to get more from all of them, as polycultures work better than monocultures. More soil – we want to build it rather than mine it; more jobs – people and variety in what we’re doing; and more money – it’s the circular economy principle – to use waste from one process as feed for another, which lowers costs. For example, once we have the fruit trees, we’ll graze pigs through them, and they’ll eat the fallen fruits.”
Advice on getting started with agroforestry
"There is a tremendous appetite for tree planting on farms and crofts,” says Perthshire farmer Alan Bryce, who works as a farming advisor with Woodland Trust Scotland. “Woodland Trust's outreach staff are in high demand to give free advice and help accessing grants. These webinars offer a great opportunity for people to find out more."
Lyn White, Scottish Forestry’s Forestry and Farming Development Officer adds: “This project gives a great opportunity to highlight and discuss the multiple benefits that integrating trees on farms can bring for business and the wider environment – whether it be shelter for livestock, habitat for wildlife or helping to reduce a farm’s carbon footprint. Key to this is the right tree in the right place for the right reason.”