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Establish and manage agroforestry systems

Photo taken by Maja Lindström, Wakelyns Agroforestry

How to establish and manage an agroforestry system?

Before you establish your agroforestry system, you should have a management plan that is aligned with your farming operation, your ecological context, and your personal goals. Doing this will allow you to create an agroforestry system that is economically viable AND that you enjoy working with.

 

In this page, you will learn about:

  1. The most important management areas in agroforestry

  2. How different “type” of tree species have different management needs

  3. How to choose the right tree species and management strategy for your farm 

Silvopoutry system with chicken in the UK

Ground preparation for sward trials, silvopoultry system, UK. AGFORWARD project

The most important management areas in agroforestry

Different trees grow better in different environments. However, even if all tree species have adapted to specific habitats, basically all trees need sunlight, water, nutrients, and protection from damaging organisms. 

The same can be said about the management of trees. Even though different trees are managed in different ways, there are a few areas of management that most trees share. If trees are managed well in these areas, then they will grow well and produce good yields.

These key areas of management are:

  1. Planting

  2. Plant protection

  3. Water management

  4. Weed control

  5. Nutrients

  6. Pruning

  7. Harvesting

In future blog posts, I will cover each management area in more detail. For now it is important for you to understand what the key management areas in agroforestry are.

 

As you can see, there are 4 management areas written in bold. These are the areas of management that usually cost the most time and money. You need to pay special attention to these areas if you want to create a profitable agroforestry system. If you don't manage these 4 areas effectively, then the management can become monotonous, inefficient and psychologically stressful. This will affect your management and fulfillment in the long run. 

 

Below, you will find a table that shows what management needs different trees have. This table will help you choose the right tree species and management strategy for your farm.

Hazel and potatoes in Wakelyns Agroforestry, UK

Source: Wakelyns Agroforestry, Suffolk, UK hazel and potatoes. AGFORWARD project

The management needs of different tree species

There are many different tree species you can work with in agroforestry. The tree species you choose to work with will affect both your management and your economics. Below, I have categorized tree species relevant to temperate agroforestry into different 'production systems.' Production systems consist of trees that produce the same type of products. Because they produce the same type of products and grow in a similar way, each production system usually shares similar management needs.

There are certain tree species that can be part of two or more production systems at the same time, because they can produce more than one product from the same tree species. For example, walnut trees can produce both nuts and high-quality timber simultaneously. Another example is willow, which can be used both as fodder and as biofuel.

When you start designing your agroforestry system, you are not limited to a single production system. You may want to have different production systems in the same field or in different areas of your farm. 

The table below provides an overview of the most relevant production systems for temperate agroforestry. I recommend you to use the table below as a general framework of how to think about the different “types” of tree species relevant to temperate agroforestry. Before you take any final decisions for your land, I would recommend you to consult an advisor or someone knowledgeable about trees in your region. This person can help you to choose the right tree species and management practices based on your specific context.

Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry
© Mauricio Sagastuy

Table - Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry
Table - Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry
Table - Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry
Table - Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry
Table - Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry
Table - Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry
Table - Overview of tree species and production systems relevant for temperate agroforestry

How to choose the right tree species and management strategy for your farm

There are two key insights you should take away from the table above are: 

1) Different tree species have different economic and management needs

2) Some tree species will be better at fulfilling certain functions in your farm than others

 

For example, tree species categorized as “support species” provide valuable ecosystem services to your farm and they require little management time and low investments. “Fast growing tree species” require even less management time or investments than “support species” while still providing relevant ecosystem services. On the other hand, “fruit trees” or “berry bushes” allow you to generate a good income by selling valuable products. However, these trees will require more management time, a better infrastructure, and a bigger investment compared to “support species” or “fast growing tree species”.

Sheep grazing underneath apple trees in Northern Ireland

Source: Sheep grazing underneath apple trees in Loughgall Northern Ireland. AGFORWARD project

The next step in creating your management plan is to understand your farm's context. When you understand your farm´s context you will be able to choose the right tree species for your farm. You can start this process by doing step 1:

 

Step 1: Answer the questions below and use your understanding of the different production systems to choose the most fitting tree species for your farm. If you want to go deeper, you should map the different areas of your farm based on the questions below. By doing this, you will be able to see which tree species can fit well in the different areas of your farm. Thus, you will start creating your first sketch for your future design.


Ecological context:

  1. What type of soil do you have in your farm? Are there different areas of your farm that have different types of soil? 

  2. What climate do you have in your farm?

  3. Which tree species grow naturally in your region?

  4. Which tree species are being cultivated in your region? 

 

Infrastructure:

  1. What machines do you own or have easy access to?

  2. Do you have access to water, permission, and the possibility to irrigate? 

  3. Do you have a drainage system in your farm? If yes, where are the drainage pipes and ditches located?

  4. Are different parts of your farm more or less accessible for machinery and transport of goods? 

 

Personal goals and conditions:

  1. What are your goals with your agroforestry system?

  2. Why do you want to work with agroforestry?

  3. Which tasks do you enjoy doing? 

  4. What products or services do you want to create with your agroforestry system?

  5. How many hours a week do you want to spend managing your trees? How are the hours distributed over the year and the following years?

 

Sales and economics:

  1. How much money are you willing to invest? Will the investment change over time? 

  2. Where can you sell your products? Are there any potential clients, restaurants, REKO-rings (via Facebook), or local markets near your farm?

  3. Do you want to sell directly to your customers?

  4. Do you want to sell larger quantities to wholesalers?

  5. What tree-based products are most in demand by your potential clients?


Step 2: After you have answered the questions above and you brainstormed some suitable tree species for your farm. Then you should think about how you are planning on managing your trees. Write some ideas for each of the 7 key management areas listed above. Try to think of how you can manage your trees effectively, realistically, and in a way where you enjoy the process. These ideas will form the first draft of your future management plan.

 

In future blog posts I will cover each of the 7 key areas of management, and other relevant management areas, in more detail. 


Please, comment below on what you think about the establishment and management principles discussed above. Any feedback or thoughts about it? What are your experiences when establishing or managing an agroforestry system?

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