New report suggests that trees on farms are essential to improve productivity and environmental protection post Brexit

Major agroforestry trials should be established during the EU withdrawal period according to a report launched today by the Woodland Trust and the Soil Association. The policy document, entitled “Agroforestry in England: Benefits, Barriers and Opportunities” also suggests that government support for farmer-led research and innovation networks seeking to integrate trees and agriculture should be trialled.

Agroforestry, the combination of trees and shrubs with agricultural production, is quite a broad concept and can involve rows of trees through arable crops like wheat, trees dotted through pasture like parkland, or trees planted close together to provide cover for plants and animals. According to the Woodland Trust 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.

The Chair of Trustees of the Woodland Trust, Baroness Barbara Young, who led a panel discussion at the event later commented:

“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.”

 The report’s recommendations to Government are as follows:

·         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.

Clearly the Woodland Trust and Soil Association are keen to promote agroforestry post Brexit but the real question will be whether farmers feel confident to apply the techniques on farm as time goes by? Certainly those farmers who already use agroforestry seem to be positive about the potential practical benefits. Stephen Briggs is just one example. He farms in Cambridgeshire and was recently featured on an episode of Meet the Farmers. However, we are still a while away from it becoming a mainstream concept. Surely it’s time for government to support more thinking outside the box when it comes to landscape, environmental protection and food production and support things like agroforestry.

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