Challenges to UK Agroforestry

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Agroforestry, the practice of integrating trees within farming systems for agroecological benefits, is increasingly being touted as a necessary tool for farm resilience, landscape regeneration, biodiversity conservation, and combating climate change. So why then does only 3.3% of the UK's land feature agroforestry practices?

Recently published research by the Organic Research Center, Soil Association, Woodland Trust, and Abacus Agriculture, highlights ten barriers that are preventing farmers from adopting agroforestry:

1) Lack of conceptual understanding and knowledge of agroforestry 2) Grants, subsidy, funding opportunities for agroforestry or lack thereof 3) Lack of practical understanding and knowledge of agroforestry 4) Establishments costs 5) Capital investment requirements 6) Management and maintenance costs 7) Reduced profitability and loss of yield 8) Lack of economic understanding of agroforestry 9) Access to case studies and demo farms 10) Clashes with existing agricultural processes and activities

Put simply, these barriers fall within two categories: finance and knowledge.

If we want money to grow on trees, we need money for trees to grow on

With the uncertainty of post-brexit agricultural policy in the UK many people are hesitant to commit to long-term investments in agroforestry without knowing what exactly will be incentivized. Clearly there needs to be explicit funding made available to incentivise agroforestry planting, yet such funding should also be flexible to allow systems to be designed for the context of the farm on which they are being established. DEFRA have suggested an agroforestry standard will be included in the Sustainable Farming Incentives, while ORC and others are coordinating a test and trial processes to understand what this standard may entail.

Bridging the knowing-doing gap

Agroforestry, like many other agroecological endeavors, is knowledge intensive. Furthermore, the type of knowledge required is not merely theoretical but is grounded in the contexts of the land and farming systems in which trees are to be planted - what may work on one farm will have very different outcomes on another. With only 3.3% of the UK's land containing agroforestry systems there is a limited supply of inspiring success stories available for British farmers to build upon. The research rightly highlights the need for more UK specific case studies and agroforestry demonstration farms.

Here at FarmED we are in the process of designing a 'Living Agroforestry Textbook' to demonstrate several agroforestry systems on the farm. As a demonstration farm and education centre we feel it is our role to test new ideas to inspire others to think about what they could do on their land, and to engage researchers and policy makers to understand the complexity of agroecological farming practices. Pairing physical demonstrations with empowering knowledge exchange events, we aim to accelerate the transition to agroecological farming and food systems. Again, if greater funding was made available for agroforestry knowledge exchange, advice and mentoring, even more impact could be achieved.

Planting trees isn't for everyone, and there will certainly be some farmers who don't want to go down the route of agroforestry. However, for those who are eager to integrate trees into their farms but don't know where to start, FarmED is running an Agroforestry Design Masterclass in collaboration with UK agroforesters Ben Raskin, Niels Corfield and Tirion Keatinge on the 16th - 17th February 2022. This 2-day intensive workshop will look at several of the challenges identified by this new report, including conceptual understanding of agroforestry design and practical considerations for establishment and management, costs and integration with existing systems. By end of this workshop participants can expect to walk away with an actionable design for a priority planting area. In doing so, we hope to inspire a new wave of successful agroforestry stories for others to learn from.

FarmED welcomes this research and the policy recommendations the report puts forward, namely:

1) Substantial investment in agroforestry knowledge exchange, including farm and forestry advisory services, peer to peer and mentoring services and education, for agroforestry adoption to increase.

2) Post-Brexit incentive mechanisms for agroforestry that reflect the long-term nature of these systems, not just establishment.

3) Inclusion of an explicit agroforestry standard in post-Brexit agricultural policy to help farmers understand the value of the tree assets they have and enable them to enhance and expand tree cover within their farming systems.

You can read the Organic Research Centre's full report here: Incentives and disincentives to the adoption of agroforestry by UK farmers: a semi-quantitative evidence review


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