Government support for farmer-led research and innovation networks seeking to integrate trees and agriculture should also be trialled according to the policy document Agroforestry in England: Benefits, Barriers and Opportunities.
Agroforestry, the combination of trees and shrubs with agriculture, involves rows of trees through arable crops like wheat, dotted through pasture like parkland, or planted close together to provide cover for plants and animals.
Combining trees and farming can increase productivity, diversify farm businesses, protect soils from erosion, store carbon, increase habitat for pollinators and act as a natural flood defence.
The report, which follows on from last year's successful agroforestry conference, was launched at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Agroecology, hosted by Baroness Miller and Kerry McCarthy MP.
Woodland Trust Chair of Trustees Baroness Barbara Young, who led a panel discussion at the event, said: "Agroforestry has the potential to deliver on a wide range of policy objectives in England, yet barriers are preventing widespread adoption. Supporting agroforestry would be a win-win for productivity, environmental protection and agricultural resilience and we strongly believe the government should adopt the recommendations in our report to make agroforestry a priority for the future of farming."
Sam Packer, policy officer at the Soil Association, said: "We need immediate action from government on agroforestry, mainstreaming productive farming with trees is long overdue. Agroforestry must become a central part of new farming and land management policy, clearly defined and supported in the Agriculture Bill."
Recommendations to Government are:
- Adopt a practical and clear definition of agroforestry to give clarity to land managers, practitioners and policy makers;
- Make on-farm tree planting and management central to the UK's new environmental land management scheme, rewarding the public goods delivered as a result;
- Trial new agroforestry projects that test support mechanisms including advice and funding;
- Develop, fund and train a new generation of farm and forestry advisors to break the divide between forestry and agriculture;
- Create an overarching agroforestry strategy to inform all departments to overcome the historic separation of agriculture and forestry;
- Incentivise long-term tenancy agreements to encourage investment in establishing agroforestry and improving soil health; and
- Place trees in the Agriculture Bill to recognise the vital role they play, and support the potential of well-planned tree planting including agroforestry.
At the Dartington Hall estate in Devon, a three-tiered agroforestry contract has been made between the landowner, tenant and local businesses growing top fruit, elderflowers and Sichuan peppers. The tenant farmers, Jon and Lynne Perkin, were happy to integrate trees into their arable/silage rotation but as livestock farmers they lacked the appropriate skills, finance and market knowledge.
By teaming up with established local businesses that plant, manage, harvest and market the tree crops, the farm has gained external investment, supported new entrants to access land, increased the diversity of local crops for local markets and now receive the additional benefits of integrating trees with their arable production.
Speaking at the report launch, Harriet Bell, Community Resilience (Food & Farming) Manager at The Dartington Hall Trust said: "At Dartington we have several different models of agroforestry that demonstrate how agroforestry can be successfully integrated with horticulture and arable crops, and so yield additional added value crops for farmers - such as top fruit and biomass and even increase the variety of food available to local consumers. Our Broadlears field project also demonstrates that farmers don't need to feel pressurized to deliver it all by themselves but can collaborate with other businesses to everyone's benefit.
"Agroforestry is one of the clearest examples of where our national interests and farmers own commercial interests can align very productively. We will be planting more trees here at Dartington and we look forward to government policies which support that objective."
Agroforestry in England: Benefits, Barriers and Opportunities has been published by the Soil Association and Woodland Trust with support from Sainsbury's, Abacus Agriculture, the CLA, Biodiversity International Ltd, the Royal Forestry Society, Sustain, the Organic Research Centre, Cranfield University, the Institute of Chartered Foresters, the Farm Woodland Forum, and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.