USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has unveiled a plan that will help farmers, ranchers and woodland owners enhance productivity, profitability and environmental stewardship by using the practice of agroforestry.
Agroforestry intentionally combines agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems that take advantage of the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock.
Merrigan unveiled the USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework during the North American Agroforestry Conference, in Athens, Ga. The framework is the USDA guide to advance agroforestry knowledge, practices and assistance that lays the roadmap to influence the long-term health and sustainability of all lands for future generations.
“Agroforestry does not sacrifice farmland for forests or forests for farmland,” Merrigan said. “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.”
Agroforestry practices may appear like a living patchwork quilt across entire watersheds. For instance, 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, goldenseal, curly willow and Galax.
Likewise, 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.
Putting trees to work
“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 and leader of the Interagency Agroforestry Team that developed the framework with input from diverse 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 operation.”
The Agroforestry Strategic Framework is built around three simple goals: adoption — increase the use of agroforestry by landowners and communities; science — advance the understanding of and tools for applying agroforestry; and integration — incorporate agroforestry into an all-lands approach to conservation and economic development.
Agroforestry provides benefits beyond rural areas. In rural-urban interface areas agroforestry practices can improve wildlife habitat, mitigate the movement of odors and dust, serve as noise barriers and act as filters that help keep water clean, and do “double duty” as green spaces where food and other products can be grown, while also providing a more pleasing place to work and live.
The Interagency Agroforestry Team 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 (National Association of State Foresters and 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.