Agroforestry 2017: what happened?

The first event of its type in the UK, hosted in partnership with the Soil Association and the Royal Forestry Society, Agroforestry 2017 showcased some of the leading practices from around the world.

250 farmers, foresters, landowners and researchers came together to learn about some of the UK’s leading agroforestry systems, explore the benefits and practicalities of bringing more trees onto farmland, and taking farming into forests.

The expert panel of farmers, alongside Beccy Speight, John Tucker and Helen Chesshire from the Woodland Trust, and Charlotte Smith from Farming Today (Photo: WTML/P Formby)

By mixing farming and forestry, a well-managed agroforestry system can produce 40% more than if they are separate.

Attendees at the conference heard how the need to tackle soil erosion and cope with climate change will make trees more important for productive cropping and livestock farming.

Speakers from France, Australia and around the world described how these practices are increasingly popular. British farmers who are already reaping the benefits of agroforestry shared their experiences.

Patrick Worms, World Agroforestry Centre (Photo: WTML/P Formby)

Opening discussion took place trying to classify and clarify agroforestry.

"Agroforestry is like pornography, you may not be able to explain it, but you know what it is when you see it!"

Opening speaker, Patrick Worms from the World Agroforestry Centre

David Brass from The Lakes Free Range Egg Co. Ltd in Cumbria is one of those already implementing agroforestry on his farm. Speaking at the conference he said: "At first, we were planting trees simply to encourage our hens to range, having recognised their inclination towards sheltered areas. But the benefits went far beyond that original motive and, as well as the undeniable improvements to the hens’ welfare, we’ve seen better soil water retention, more biodiversity and crucially a higher quality product."

While the benefits of agroforestry seem clear and comprehensive, it is still unusual in the UK. One reason is because it is seen as a niche practice, but it could be boosted by more recognition and support for tree planting on farms in government policy.

Closing the conference Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust, said: "Agroforestry needs to be a mainstream component of a new fully integrated land management policy. The practical examples and robust evidence we have heard today of trees supporting farm businesses and new commercial opportunities are powerful tools with which to influence a new, post-Brexit policy. Collectively, we must secure polices that prevent trees on farms from continuing to fall through the cracks.

We are calling on the Government to take a new and ambitious approach which tackles administrative blockages, harnesses innovative sources of funding and properly reflects the valuable interplay between trees, woods, forestry, farming and the environment.”

Case study videos from farmers talking on the day can be found on our YouTube channel.

What’s next?

Come along to our Agroforestry live event. Taking place at the Allerton Trust in Leicestershire on 23 November the day will practically showcase how trees can successfully be implemented into a farming system. Email now to book your place.

If you’re interested in agroforestry and want to plant trees on your farm we could help. Find out how