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Agroforestry – An Opportunity for Sustainable Innovation

Agroforestry as a term was coined only around 50 years ago but the agricultural practices that the term encompasses go back millennia. It is essentially an integration of trees with crops or pasture as a land use management strategy, combining agriculture and forestry. While agroforestry is more typically associated with tropical climates, especially in its modern forms, it has also been adopted increasingly in temperate climates such as the USA and Europe, though in one way or another, they were already there.


Agroforestry, on some level, is arguably practised to some extent by most farmers in the UK. Hedgerows and trees surround the perimeters of most fields across the country, and the vast patchworks of fields are dotted with small forests. We take this for granted but this is not necessarily a given for commercial agriculture. The Green Revolution saw huge strides in the technology and efficiency of agriculture, leading to huge yield increases, but came with enormous ecological downsides. While criticism of the green revolution typically centres on the overuse of pesticides and artificial fertilises, it also saw the removal of hedges and trees to make room for large new machinery. However, in time, this has allowed increased wind erosion and reduced quality of the soil, not just impacting wild ecology but also reducing long-term agricultural sustainability. Hedgerows were replanted as a result.


While this is technically agroforestry, it is barely scratching the surface of its possibilities. Of course, more intense agroforestry techniques are not appropriate for many crops, largely due to the difficulty of harvesting around trees, but this does not mean there are no opportunities to increase the use of the practice. These practices can carry the sustainability advantages of hedgerows but also introduce new revenue sources through new crops. Alley cropping introduces rows of fruit trees alternating with traditional arable crops. Crop trees can also be interspersed among pastures or other spaces for livestock, which is found to increase their quality of life and even their health through more diverse browse. A potentially underdeveloped area in this regard is for poultry; few know that the natural environment of chickens is the forest, and as such, they may benefit greatly from rearing within orchards or similar land uses.


However, introducing agroforestry techniques to an existing agricultural production model is not just a straightforward adaptation and will require work on the part of competent professionals to develop effective management strategies that work for them. Minerva Innovation Group has experience in qualifying claims for agricultural industry professionals performing innovative work. If any farmers are seeking to develop new or adapt existing agroforestry methods in the United Kingdom, we are able to assist them in claiming some well-deserved financial support from HMRC.


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