Agroforestry is a concept of integrated land use that combines elements of agriculture and forestry in a sustainable production system. There are both ecological and economic interactions between the trees and crops and/or livestock elements in an agroforestry system. These interactions can lead to higher productivity compared to conventional systems, and provide a wide range of services including soil management, microclimate modification, weed control, natural fencing, carbon sequestration and nutrient recycling.

In its simplest form, agroforestry can be described as ‘growing trees on farms’ and includes the integration, both ecologically and economically, of the woody elements that may already be present in agricultural landscapes, such as hedgerows, windbreaks, buffer zones, trees in pasture, and small woodlands. At a greater level of complexity are agroforestry systems that are fully integrated structured systems where standard trees, orchard trees and/or coppice systems are grown in rows between crops or pasture in an alley-cropping design.

Agroforestry systemsAgroforestry farms in the UK
Agroforestry policy and grantsLinks to further information

ORC staff involved

Dr. Jo Smith, Prof. Martin Wolfe and Sally Westaway.

Research aims

The focus of our agroforestry research programme is the evaluation of a range of agroforestry systems (including both crops and livestock) in terms of their productivity, environmental and economic impacts, and their potential for agri-environmental policy. We are also investigating the potential of hedges and other landscape elements as sources for biofuels and other products, generating an income to support their management and conservation.

Current projects

Project title (acronym)FunderDescription
Innovative and sustainable intensification of integrated food and non-food systems to develop climate-resilient agro-ecosystems in Europe (SustainFARM)FACCE SURPLUSThe main objective of SustainFARM is to enhance agronomic, environmental and economic performance of integrated food and non-food production systems (IFNS) by optimizing productivity and valorizing woody components, residual wastes and co-products.
AGroFORestry that Will Advance Rural Development (AGFORWARD) (AGFORWARD)EU FP 7Working with 26 partners from across 23 European countries, this project aims to promote agroforestry practices in Europe that will advance sustainable rural development, i.e. improved competitiveness and social and environmental enhancement.

Completed projects

Project title (acronym)FunderDescription
Innovative strategies for copper-free low input and organic farming systems (Co-Free)EU Framework Programme 7The project aims to develop innovative methods, tools and concepts for the replacement of copper in European organic and low input fruit, grapevine, potato, and tomato production systems.
Agroforestry in dairy systems, a part of Sustainable Organic and Low Input Dairying (SOLID)EU Seventh Framework ProgrammeThis project, part of SOLID, is investigating the potential of integrating bioenergy production from short rotation coppice with dairy systems for alternative feed resources, improved animal welfare, enhanced productivity and environmental benefits.
Towards Eco-energetic Communities (TWECOM)INTERREG 4b NWE Programme/ Ashden TrustRealising the economic potential of using biomass from landscape elements for local energy or heat production with respect for the current ecological, cultural and social functions that these landscape elements fulfil.
Can agroforestry reconcile conflicting demands for productivity, biodiversity conservation and delivery of ecosystem services?University of Reading/ORCThis PhD aims: (i) to identify which goods and services agroforestry systems can deliver, (ii) to quantify the values of these services (ecologically and economically), and (iii) to inform the process of how policy can support these activities.
The biodiversity impacts of establishing a silvoarable agroforestry system – Whitehall Farm, CambsAshden TrustThis ongoing project will monitor the effect on biodiversity of establishing a silvoarable system with apple trees on previously intensive conventionally farmed land in Cambridgeshire.
Eco-Agroforestry NetworkAshden TrustThe Eco-Agroforestry Network aims to bring the sustainable agroforestry approach into the mainstream of UK food, fuel, timber, and fibre production, through research, dissemination, and policy change.
Impacts of organic silvoarable systems on pest and disease distribution – Sheepdrove Organic Farm, BerkshireUniversity of Reading/ORCMSc research project investigating the distribution of pests and diseases, and microclimatic differences, within a silvoarable system and arable control system.
A review of temperate agroforestry research literatureAshden TrustA comprehensive review of research activities in temperate agroforestry systems was carried out to provide a basis for identifying the potential of agroforestry as a land use system that balances productivity with environmental protection.
Tree-crop interactions in silvoarable agroforestryAshden TrustIn 2009 we carried out a study to investigate the interactions between tree and crop components in the mixed hardwood and fruit tree silvoarable system at Wakelyns, in Suffolk, England to identify local variations in cereal yields.
Silvo-Poultry: An Agroforestry System for Organic Chicken Production at Sheepdrove Organic FarmJuliet and Peter KindersleyIn collaboration with Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire we designed a novel silvopoultry system which is integrated into the farm’s organic rotation.

See all completed projects here.

Key publications

Gosme et al (Eds.) (2016) Celebrating 20 years of Agroforestry research in Europe: Book of Abstracts. 3rd European Agroforestry Conference, 23-25 May 2016

Chambers M, Crossland M, Westaway S, Smith J (2015) A guide to harvesting woodfuel from hedges. ORC Technical Guide.

Crossland M, Westaway S, Gerrard C, Smith J (2015) A protocol for monitoring the impacts of harvesting hedges for woodfuel on biodiversity

Smith, J., Pearce, B.D. and Wolfe, M.S. 2012. Reconciling productivity with protection of the environment: Is temperate agroforestry the answer? Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. doi:10.1017/S1742170511000585

Smith, J., Pearce, B.D. and Wolfe, M.S. 2012. A European perspective for developing modern multifunctional agroforestry systems for sustainable intensification. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. doi:10.1017/S1742170511000597

Palma, J., Chalmin, A., Burgess, P., Smith, J., Strachan, M., Ruiz Mirazo, J. and Rosati, A. (Eds.) (2014) Integrating Science and Policy to Promote Agroforestry in Practice: Book of Abstracts. 2nd European Agroforestry Conference, 04-06 June 2014, Cottbus, Germany

Varah, A., Smith, J., Jones, H. and Potts, S.G. (2014). Delivering food production, biodiversity and other ecosystem services in agriculture: can agroforestry do it all? Agriculture and the Environment X, Delivering Multiple Benefits from our Land: Sustainable Development in Practice Pg. 99-105

Smith, J., Girling, R.D., Wolfe, M.S. and Pearce, B.D. (2014). Agroforestry: Integrating apple and arable production as an approach to reducing copper use in organic and low-input apple production. Agriculture and the Environment X, Delivering Multiple Benefits from our Land: Sustainable Development in Practice Pgs. 278-284.

Smith, J. 2010. Agroforestry: Reconciling Production with Protection of the Environment. A Synopsis of Research literature. (Click here to access the pdf from Organic Eprints).

Smith, J. 2010. The History of Temperate Agroforestry. (Click here to access the pdf from Organic Eprints).

Smith, J. 2010. Agroforestry Policy Review. (Click here to access the pdf from Organic Eprints).

Other relevant websites

Farm Woodland Forum (FWF) The Farm Woodland Forum aims to facilitate the generation and exchange of information that supports best practice in and improves opportunities for farming with trees.

The European Agroforestry Federation (EURAF): The European Agroforestry Federation aims to promote the use of trees on farms as well as any kind of silvopastoralism throughout the different environmental regions of Europe.

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) mission is to generate science-based knowledge about the diverse benefits – both direct and indirect – of agroforestry, or trees in farming systems and landscapes, and to disseminate this knowledge to develop policy options and promote policies and practices that improve livelihoods and benefit the environment. They focus more on tropical agroforestry systems.

The Woodland Trust is UK’s largest woodland conservation charity; they protect and campaign on behalf of this country’s woods, plant more trees, and restore ancient woodland, for the benefit of wildlife and people. In recent years they have been actively promoting tree planting on farms.

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