Farming with forests

Feeding the world’s burgeoning population is a major challenge for agricultural scientists and agribusinesses, who are busy developing higher-yielding crop varieties. Yet University of Illinois researchers stress that we should not overlook sustainability in the frenzy to achieve production goals.

More than a third of the global land area is currently in food production. This figure is likely to expand, leading to deforestation, habitat loss, and weakening of essential ecosystem services, according to U of I agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell and graduate student Matt Wilson. To address these and other problems, they are promoting an unconventional solution: agroforestry.

Agroforestry is the intentional combination of trees and shrubs with crops or livestock. Or, as Wilson simply puts it, “You stick trees or shrubs in other stuff.”

The researchers describe five agroforestry practices:

      – Alley cropping: field crops planted between rows of trees.

– Silvopasture: trees added to pasture systems.

– Riparian buffers: trees planted between field edges and river edges.

– Windbreaks: trees planted adjacent to planted fields and perpendicular to the prevailing wind pattern.

– Forest farming: harvest or cultivation of products–such as mushrooms, ginseng, or ornamental wood–in established forests.

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