Agroforestry Plan Promotes Land Stewardship

A new USDA plan integrates forests and farmland for increased sustainable land use.

by Dani Yokhna
The USDA's Agroforestry Strategic Framework optimizes forest and shrubbery use
Courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock
The USDA’s agroforestry plan strategizes ways to use farmland and forests in conjunction with each other to promote environmental stewardship.

A new plan developed by the USDA aims to help farmers, ranchers and woodland owners enhance productivity, profitability and environmental stewardship by practicing agroforestry. Agroforestry intentionally combines agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems that take advantage of the interactive benefits of combining trees and shrubs with crops or livestock.

The USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework is the USDA guide to advance agroforestry knowledge, practices and assistance that influence the long-term health and sustainability of all lands for future generations.

“Agroforestry does not sacrifice farmland for forests or forests for farmland,” says Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture. “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 to be a living patchwork quilt across entire watersheds. Managed forest canopies in a woodland area, for example, 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.

“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,” says Andy Mason of the U.S. Forest Service and leader of the Interagency Agroforestry Team that developed the framework.

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).

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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, act as water filters, 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.

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