Trees on farms: A basic understanding of Agroforestry
Updated: Apr 13
The concept of agroforestry can seem intimidating. Breaking it down: agro- (Greek, means “field”) and forestry (Latin, means “the outside woods”). Having the literal definition is just the starting point, now what does agroforestry actually mean? Here, Trinity College Dublin PhD candidate Kathleen Conroy explains a little bit more on the concept.
Agroforestry is a type of multi-use land management which combines the forestry and agriculture industries. Under agroforestry, land is used for agriculture and forestry purposes simultaneously. When done properly, agroforestry can be an attractive land management option. Forestry and agriculture used together can be mutually beneficial, creating opportunities that would not be available by using the land for a single purpose, such as additional sources of sustainable on-farm revenue, contributing to animal welfare and productivity levels, and enhancing biodiversity, drainage, soil health and nutrient capture.
Existing in many forms globally, there are five main types of agroforestry in Europe. These include silvopastoral (livestock and trees), silvoarable (crops and trees), hedgerows promoting water quality, harvesting forest produce (i.e., mushrooms), and home gardens. Each type offers unique benefits and a landowner would choose one based on their needs. In Ireland, agroforestry takes the form of animal grazing and grass/hay production.
Specific guidelines are followed to ensure proper forest development. In Ireland, under the agroforestry regulations, oak, sycamore, and cherry trees are grown only (Teagasc 2020). Although if a site has conditions that promote other trees, this can be taken into consideration. With the minimum land requirement of 0.5 hectares (Teagasc 2020), many people can avail of this land management opportunity.
Also, when raising young animals, the farmer must provide a shelter around the young developing trees to protect them from being damaged by grazing (Teagasc 2020). Once the trees are strong enough, larger animals may be introduced. If a farmer is producing hay and crops on their land, at harvest, they must use special machinery and caution so as to cause no damage to the trees (Teagasc 2020).
To make agroforestry more enticing, Department of Agriculture grants have been made available for landowners who wish to participate. Since 2015, 18 grants have been approved and subsequently planted for a total of 42 hectares of land (Cadogan 2022), a much lower uptake than expected. It is believed that along with financial incentives, other complex factors such as the farmers’ values and goals likely influence their decision whether to participate (McDonagh et al. 2010, Duesberg et al. 2014). Despite the low rate to date, agroforestry has the potential for growth in Ireland, a topic which we will look at in more depth in future blogs.
Agroforestry - Fact Sheet (2020) Teagasc. Teagasc Forestry Development Department. Available at: https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/rural-economy/rural-development/diversification/Forestry-2-Agroforestry.pdf (Accessed: February 22, 2023).
Duesberg, S., Upton, V., O'Connor, D. & Dhubháin, Á. (2014) “Factors influencing Irish farmers' afforestation intention”. Forest Policy and Economics, 39, 13-20.
Cadogan, S. (2022) “Farm View: Landowners slow to take up agroforestry,” Irish Examiner, 6 April. Available at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/farming/arid-40845410.html (Accessed: February 22, 2023).
McDonagh, J., Farrell, M., Mahon, M. & Ryan, M. (2010) “New opportunities and cautionary steps? Farmers, forestry and rural development in Ireland”. European Countryside, 2, 236.