Forests and Crops Co-exist Under New USDA Strategy

WASHINGTON, DC, June 6, 2011 (ENS) – U.S. agriculture and forestry officials today unveiled the Obama administration’s new strategic plan to promote agroforestry, the intentional combination of agriculture and forestry, to enhance productivity, profitability and environmental stewardship of agricultural lands.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan introduced the USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework during the North American Agroforestry Conference, in Athens, Georgia.

“Agroforestry does not sacrifice farmland for forests or forests for farmland,” said Merrigan. “Rather, agroforestry is the marriage of disciplines that, in the end, will protect our natural resources, benefit our communities and allow for the development of other sources of income for farmers, ranchers and woodland owners. Agroforestry can enhance values for any landowner.”

Forest buffer growing along a river helps reduce nutrient pollution to the waterway. (Photo courtesy USDA)

Agroforestry practices may appear like a living patchwork quilt across entire watersheds, she said. Managed forest canopies in a woodland area can protect a range of crops grown for food, landscaping, and medicinal use – plants such as shiitake mushrooms, ramps, ginseng and goldenseal.

Farmers and ranchers who plant pine trees on land used for livestock and forage production can add to their profits by selling pine straw and high-value saw logs.

“The foundation of agroforestry is putting trees to work in conservation and production systems. Agroforestry begins with placing the right plant, in the right place, for the right purpose,” said Andy Mason of the U.S. Forest Service. Mason led the Interagency Agroforestry Team that developed the framework with input from a range of stakeholders.

“This framework will help USDA focus its efforts on developing the highest priority science and tools while expanding its educational, training, and partnership activities so that America’s farmers, ranchers and woodland owners have the greatest opportunity to consider agroforestry for their operations,” said Mason.

In his forward to the strategy document, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he plans to establish an Agroforestry Steering Committee that will guide the implementation of the strategic framework, which covers fiscal years 2011- 2016.

An agricultural crop is grown with a long-term tree crop to provide annual income while the tree crop matures. (Photo courtesy USDA)

“While Governor of Iowa, I saw first-hand the benefits associated with the application of agroforestry to local farms, ranches, and woodlands,” Vilsack wrote.

“…riparian forest buffers and other agroforestry practices have helped to reduce soil erosion and nutrient run-off and conserve natural resources, such as water and wildlife, on several million acres,” the secretary wrote. “These practices have been a key component of landscape conservation efforts, such as the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico initiatives.”

“I have, however, also noticed that the application of agroforestry is not widespread,” wrote Vilsack. “Please join me in an “all lands/all hands” approach that expands the application of agroforestry and generates prosperity in new ways while helping to conserve the Nation’s natural resources and ensuring sustainable production of food, feed, fiber, and energy for the country and the world.”

The strategy presents five categories of agroforestry practices in the United States:

  • Field, farmstead, and livestock windbreaks
  • Riparian forest buffers along waterways
  • Silvopasture systems with trees, livestock, and forages growing together
  • Alley cropping that integrates annual crops with high-value trees and shrubs
  • Forest farming where food, herbal, and decorative products are grown under the protection of a managed forest canopy

The strategy document recommends that language be included in the 2012 Farm Bill, and in forthcoming energy, climate or transportation legislation that appropriates specific funding for agroforestry practices on small farms.

The Interagency Agroforestry Team that wrote the Strategy includes representatives from five USDA agencies – U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Farm Service Agency – and two key partners – the National Association of State Foresters and the National Association of Conservation Districts.

Those agencies, partners and others work with the USDA National Agroforestry Center, which conducts research, develops tools and coordinates training for natural resource professionals. The strategy recommends appropriations from a dedicated source of funding to maintain continuity of programming for the center.

Agroforestry provides benefits beyond rural areas, both agricultural and forestry experts say. In rural-urban interface areas agroforestry practices can improve wildlife habitat, mitigate odors and dust, serve as noise barriers and act as filters that help keep water clean. They act as green spaces where food and other products can be grown, while also providing a more pleasing place to work and live.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.