Agroforestry Gets a Boost from Feds


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Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced Monday, June 6, that the federal agency will make promoting agroforestry – the practice of including trees into farm fields – a priority in the coming years.

Merrigan made the announcement Monday morning at the North American Agroforestry Conference, which drew about 100 landowners, scientists and agricultural extension agents to the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture traditionally has not promoted agroforestry, which has been seen until recently as a fringe practice. The public’s growing interest in sustainable agriculture has made the practice more commonplace, especially in other parts of the world, according to Merrigan and other speakers at Monday’s conference.

Merrigan’s plan for promoting agroforestry in the United States includes providing USDA officials with increased education on the practice and providing resources for individual farmers to learn about the practice and its benefits.

She hopes that promoting the practice among smaller farmers will provide a wide range of examples of how the practice can be used and a concrete list of benefits. More large farmers may adopt the environmentally friendly practice after they see how the practice positively affects the bottom line of their smaller-scale counterparts.

“I wouldn’t be discouraged if don’t have the largest landholders practicing agroforestry,” she said. “It’s really more about seeing (smaller) farmers across the country using agroforestry. … Once those examples are there, and people see the benefits of it, you’ll see it really take off, because it just really makes sense.”

Traditionally, farmers have worked to remove trees from their planting fields and pastures to cut down on the competition between trees and crops for sunlight and nutrients.

Farmers who practice agroforestry leave some trees in their fields or purposely plant trees in their fields or pasture to protect the health of their soil, diversify their crop production or to provide some benefit to their primary crop.

The practice also conserves water and leads to cleaner stormwater running off farmland, according to the Agriculture Department.

Researchers have found that the practice significantly reduces the amount of greenhouse gases generated by farm fields and can substantially increased crop yields.

Some sub-Saharan African farmers have increased their yields by including trees in their corn and grain fields, according to Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre and speaker at this week’s conference.

Agricultural researchers in North America have done limited research on what combinations of trees and crops work best in what regions of the country. But placing new emphasis on the practice should encourage more research, Merrigan said.

Those interested in more information about the USDA’s new Agroforestry Strategic Framework can visit


Posted by Haylie Shipp


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