| Winter buffer strip.
Courtesy of USDA NRCS.
Most current adoption takes the form of fairly straight forward practices, e.g., riparian buffers and windbreaks. When considered as an innovative system, agroforestry is a collective name for land use systems and practices in which woody perennials are deliberately integrated with crops and/or animals on the same land management unit. The integration can be either in a spatial mixture or in a temporal sequence. There are normally both ecological and economic interactions between woody and non-woody components in agroforestry (World Agroforestry Center [ICAF]1993). For example, sylvopasture and permacultural alley cropping. These applications focus on the many benefits of agricultural-landscape woody systems, including energy input savings, positive soil and water impacts, and enhanced wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration.
Agroforestry incorporates at least several plant species into a given land area and creates a more complex habitat than those found in conventional agricultural or forestry situations. These habitats can produce a wider range of marketable products, create more sustainable business models and support a wider variety of birds, insects and other animals in the environment. There is enormous potential for economic benefit to practitioners and environmental benefit to the land; however, it is a system of practices that is usually only somewhat employed in most current applications. This is changing as producers, stakeholders, agencies and university researchers are coming together to collaborate and coordinate initiatives, and to leverage public funding to promote agroforestry as a mainstream value-added practice where agricultural cropping, forestry and production-system analysis come together in highly integrated and complementary systems.
The sustainable forest management of an agroforestry system emphasizes a mix of trees or shrubs that are intentionally used in conjunction with agricultural or non-timber production systems, perhaps in very non-traditional “forest” settings. Knowledge, careful selection of species and good management of trees and crops or livestock grazing are needed to optimize the production and positive effects within the system and to minimize negative competitive effects. Biodiversity in agroforestry systems is typically higher than in conventional agricultural systems.
There can be significant economic returns to well-thought-out systems where products focused on viable, high-value markets drive sustainable rural enterprises. In regions dominated by row crops, any woody-biomass (forest) ecosystem addition provides critical habitat and travel corridors for a diverse array of game and non-game species; helps to stabilize soil and maintains soil quality; promotes efficient cycling of water and nutrients; and provides additional hydrological benefits ranging from protecting and enhancing aquatic ecosystems to moderating storm effects, and peak and base flows in watersheds.
Because forests and societies are in constant flux, the desired outcome of sustainable forest and agroforest management is not a fixed one. The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on logical plans for of biological organization. It also recognizes that humans, with their cultural and social diversity, are an integral ecosystem component that must not be ignored. For this reason, agroforestry managers tend to develop their use and sustainability plans in a holistic fashion, often in consultation with neighboring citizens, cooperating businesses, industry organizations and end users of the products they produce.
In the simplest terms, the concept can be described as the attainment of balance; balance between increasing societal demand for forest products and benefits, and the preservation of forest or agroforest health and diversity. This balance is critical to the survival of managed forest systems and to the prosperity of all forest- and agriculture-dependent rural communities. August 2010 ... More Agroforestry