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Sustaining Agroforestry Systems for Farms and Ranches

An introduction to using tree and shrub practices in sustained agricultural systems

Agroforestry for Farms and Ranches

Agroforestry Defined

Agroforestry is the intentional growing of trees and shrubs in combination with crops or forage. Agroforestry also includes tree and shrub plantings on the farm or ranch that improve habitat value or access by humans and wildlife, or that provide woody plant products in addition to agricultural crops or forage. Agroforestry is distinguished from traditional forestry by having the additional aspect of a closely associated agricultural or forage crop.

Diverse Purposes of Agroforestry Systems

Properly designed agroforestry systems protect crops and forage, increase their production, protect soil and water resources, conserve energy, improve ecosystem "richness", create additional wildlife habitat, and increase landscape diversity. They also provide additional farm or ranch products: timber, pulpwood, firewood, posts, fruit, nuts, and fodder to name a few. Agroforestry represents a collection of multipurpose practices that are enduring and help achieve a sustainable agriculture. These practices can form the major part of a "Resource Management System" for a particular field or treatment unit. This matrix provides some examples of how practices might be combined into agroforestry systems in cropland and pasture/hay settings.

Guidance on Agroforestry System Design

What practices work together? What are the design elements used for an agroforestry system? The table below provides an overview of individual agroforestry systems to help answer these questions and provide a link to the National Handbook of Conservation Practices (NHCP) and the Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG). The NHCP and FOTG are maintained by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Specific systems within a table may be found by referring to the list below.

Table 1

The NHCP establishes official names for all conservation practices and sets national standards for each practice's design. The FOTG further refines each practice standard for use in a particular state. The agroforestry types listed in the tables are named by the predominant tree/shrub practice in the System.