ADAS points to the potential of agroforestry in the UK

According to Agricultural solutions provider ADAS, agroforestry could be one opportunity to help maximise the economic output of land.

This can be through diversified business opportunities from tree crops such as fruit or nuts, or as a way to improve the efficiencies of existing enterprises, for example, by providing shelter for livestock.

Research by the MacAulay Institute and Bangor University, investigating the complimentary nature of agroforestry and sheep production in Wales, has shown that trees provide shelter from adverse weather conditions.

An increased core temperature meant more energy could be routed to production, resulting in reduced lamb mortality, an extension to out wintering periods and a reduced requirement for supplementary feeding.

It also increases pasture yield by reducing the effects of wind, which has been found to impede plant cell expansion.

To date, the uptake of agroforestry in the UK remains considerably lower than in other temperate countries, but with a greater emphasis on the balance between food production and environment, we could see more interest in this in the future.

Agroforestry is not simply just trees on farms, it is a multi-functional land use system that combines traditional agricultural practices with trees on the same piece of land, with a view to enhancing ecological and/or economic outputs.

There are two predominant agroforestry systems in the UK; silvoarable and silvopastoral.  Silvoarable agroforestry is characterised by evenly spaced tree rows with an arable crop in the alley between.

Silvopastoral agroforestry is where trees are introduced to forage-based production systems in widely spaced, uneven intervals.

Hedgerows and shelterbelts planted to benefit livestock and mitigate environment issues are also examples of agroforestry in action, and it is this system that has been utilised by researchers in Wales.

“If agroforestry is to become a more mainstream farming system, a better understanding of the environmental, economic and operational benefits is needed,” explained ADAS’ Kathleen Wolton.

The conditions also need to be created to reduce risk from the farmers’ perspective.  Opinion surveys undertaken both in the UK and across the EU substantiate the argument that farmers require a financial safety net to underpin decisions to change farming systems to deliver positive environmental impacts.

She added: “With the UK’s imminent exit from the EU, and the direction of travel outlined in the Agriculture Bill towards greater emphasis on environmental benefits and provision of public goods, farmers could be considering agroforestry as part of the mix when reviewing future opportunities.”