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agroforestry

Five Ways Agroforestry Can Grow Forest Products and Benefit Your Land, Your Pockets & Wildlife

Much of the beauty in American agricultural landscapes is complemented by the trees in those landscapes. We depend on these tree’s products every day–from the paper our children use in school, to many of the fruits we eat, the wood burning in our fireplaces, and the wildlife habitat created by those trees and forests.

Forests are vital to our economy, as well. Trees are part of forest ecosystems that play a critical role in our livelihoods, providing environmental, economic and social values. Agroforestry practices support agricultural production and help improve water quality and air quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat. These working trees can also grow fiber, food, and energy. And with the U.S. Census Bureau projecting a population surge to nine billion by 2044, forests and agroforests can help meet the growing demands for food, shelter, medicine, and recreation.

FAS Capacity-Building Efforts in Central America Yield Benefits There and at Home

Pablo Chacón, a young Guatemalan farmer who is studying agroforestry at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Turrialba, Costa Rica, can now show the people in his home community how livestock grazing and hardwood forests can co-exist and prosper. Earlier this month, he told me and other Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) visitors to CATIE that the education he gained from his FAS-funded scholarship to CATIE has equipped him to be a change maker.

“CATIE’s research in the tropics shows that degraded lands can be restored using combined forest and pastoral production systems,” Chacón said. “The benefits of trees in pastures are clear: The shade helps reduce stress in animals during the dry season, keeps moisture in the soil and retains the strength of pastures during the dry season.”

Partners in Agroforestry

When thinking about how to reduce run-off from potato fields in New Brunswick, Canada, researcher Josée Owen of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada turned to a tool created by Mike Dosskey, a U.S. Forest Service researcher at the USDA National Agroforestry Center.

With others at the University of Kentucky and the Forest Service, Dosskey created AgBufferBuilder, a GIS-based computer program used for designing vegetation buffers around agricultural fields. Soil can erode, and fertilizer and pesticides off of fields while suspended in water. Buffers with trees, shrubs and other plants help to filter this water by trapping sediment and nutrients.

Shiitake Mushrooms: A Commercial Forest Farming Enterprise

Helping landowners care for their forests and strengthen local economies is an important goal of the U.S. Forest Service, USDA National Agroforestry Center and their partnering organizations.

According to Ken Mudge of Cornell University, any farmer with a woodlot and the drive to diversify should consider forest-cultivated shiitake mushrooms. They are well suited to the increasing demand for locally produced, healthy foods.

With a retail price of $12 to $20 per pound, the demand for shiitakes is considerable throughout the Northeast. As an added benefit, growing mushrooms encourages landowners to learn more about managing their forests.

High Five for Pollinators: Busy Bees, Bats and Butterflies

Day and night, pollinators are at work all around us—and it's not just honey bees. Did you know that pollinators are responsible for one out of three bites of food we eat? If you'd like to learn more, we've pulled together five blogs from 2015 highlighting some surprising facts about these busy helpers and the many ways different USDA agencies, farmers, ranchers and other partners are working to keep all pollinators healthy.

Using Agroforestry to Help Pollinators Help You

Today, farms in the U.S. are larger and have less nearby habitat to support bees than in the past, yet the need for pollinators in rural landscapes has never been greater. In light of concerns over pollinator declines, a Memorandum was released by President Obama on June 20, 2014, Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Pollinators. Since the release of this Memorandum, USDA agencies have been taking additional steps to support pollinators.

One question many people are asking is: how can we incorporate more pollinator habitat into our communities, agricultural lands, and forests?

Virginia Is for Lovers - and Silvopasture

Throughout his life, Chris Fields-Johnson has been keenly aware of the need to preserve the natural landscapes, which provide us with clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. As a graduate student of soil science at Virginia State and Polytechnic University, a forestry undergraduate, a student of Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School and a former employee of the Virginia Department of Forestry, he also knows much of the science behind soil restoration and forestry. These experiences have given him a strong desire to turn his knowledge into action by managing land in the most beneficial way possible.

To make this dream a reality, he began converting a 250-acre loblolly pine plantation in Scottsville, Virginia., into a goat and sheep silvopasture system that resembles a pine savanna landscape. Silvopasture combines trees with forage and livestock production. The trees are managed for high-value sawlogs and, at the same time, provide shade and shelter for livestock and forage, reducing livestock stress and sometimes improving forage quality. Fields-Johnson and friends have spent many weekends thinning and pruning trees by hand, conducting controlled burns, fighting invasive plants and experimenting with forage establishment while they also learn how to raise goats and sheep.

Working Trees for Islands Showcases Power of Agroforestry

Do you grow fruits and vegetables in your backyard or community garden? Do some of them come from trees?

Breadfruit, or ‘ulu, is an easy-to-grow, productive, nutritious, and starchy staple crop grown in many Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. It can be roasted, baked, boiled, fried or pounded into poi. In the past, many people grew breadfruit at home and in community gardens. However, many breadfruit trees have been cut down, especially in urban areas. Products such as breadfruit can have a helpful impact on Pacific islands such as Hawaii, imports about 85 percent of its food.

Forest Farming Ramps

Ramps, these tasty spring ephemerals with the scientific name Allium tricoccum, are generally called ramps in the south and wild leeks in more northern areas. They are native to the hardwood forests of eastern North America.

In many areas, ramps are viewed as a sign of the coming of spring and people flock to the forests to “dig a mess of ramps.” Many communities hold ramp festivals. When in season, local restaurants, roadside vegetable stands, and other markets sell ramps to residents and tourists. In recent years, the interest in these spring delicacies has increased to the point that high-end restaurants in cities across the nation are now offering ramps on their menus.

USDA Helps Landowners Manage for Soil Health, Buffer Drought Effects

Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.

“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, soil health coordinator with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota.

The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter that hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth.