Agroforestry: Farming Beyond Food Production. I am a 25-year old with a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticultural Science who graduated in 2010 from the University of Minnesota. My family owns a 200-acre farm in west-central Minnesota and it is my intention to implement agroforestry practices on our land. I struggle to call myself a farmer. Granted, the fact that I am still apprenticing with local producers and that the only livestock I currently have on MY land are my friend‘s honeybees might have something to do with it. However, I sincerely question whether the title of farmer will ever really encompass what I do.
I do consider myself a producer concerned with the sustainable production of food and fiber resources for my local community members, and as such, I must constantly consider the triple bottom line of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental sustainability. I am concerned with making a livable income, taking on a manageable workload, and the truly sustainable management of my farm enterprises. Economically, I must earn enough from the system to warrant my inputs of time and labor. Socially, I must be able to successfully manage the system over the long-term while avoiding burnout. Environmentally, my enterprises must
sustain productivity while continually protecting the quality of air, water, and soil resources. Erosion mitigation, fertility maintenance, and nutrient loading are just some of the environmental and production concerns that I must address. Moreover, I am committed to addressing them without the use of nonrenewable energy sources and materials to the best of my ability, lest I export sustainability concerns surrounding food production off of the farm.
For years I have been seeking methods that will allow my farm to be truly sustainable in all three of these areas. After years of exploring various sustainable farm enterprises from Community Supported Agriculture vegetable production to livestock production, I have concluded that a grass-based livestock system best suits my land, my objectives, and my financial situation. My research has persuaded me that I can remain profitable with this system while reaching my environmental production standards. A well-managed grazing system involves a very low start- up investment, requires little machinery and infrastructure, incorporates a perennialized landscape, and is one of the fastest ways to improve soil physical and chemical structure. It also
holds the potential for integration with annual cropping systems, and I do hope to eventually incorporate a CSA fruit and vegetable enterprise under an improved fallow, rotational system through my pastures. It is this rotation that I believe will help to mitigate the environmental degradation and soil fertility concerns that commonly accompany annual cropping systems. Recently, I have been collaborating with University of Minnesota Extension personnel and the grazing specialist from my county Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office to investigate how temperate agroforestry practices can be integrated into this system. Silvopasture can potentially improve the production of my livestock system by providing a longer grazing
season for cool-season grasses, improving forage quality, and reducing heat and cold-stress on livestock. In addition, long-term harvests from the tree component (i.e. fruit, nut, timber) can provide increased income. Together, we have designed a silvopasture system with attention to the specific setting and characteristics of my farm in Minnesota and consideration for my livestock enterprise. 30% of the pasture acreage will initially be planted to red pine and red oak in double, offset rows. 5 acres of poplar regeneration will be thinned to promote understory growth and crop-tree release. Future plantings of alternative tree species that produce fruit, nuts, and quality nectar flow for honey production will be incorporated into a silvopasture trial. Due
to the tree planting design of this system, there is also potential for adaptation to alley cropping. The acreage would be considered under silvopasture management while planted to forages and alley cropping while incorporating vegetables.
Outside of my on-farm enterprises, I am concerned with how my land fits into the broader landscape. I believe agroforestry can help integrate production agriculture with natural resource conservation for sustainable landscape management. Under such an approach, there is an opportunity to address some of the conservation issues associated with our relatively fragmented landscapes (i.e. reduced total habitat, increased subpopulation isolation, decrease in average patch size, etc). Certain agroforestry practices hold the potential for connecting patches of habitat via habitat corridors, which reduce the problem of isolation of species and contributes to
metapopulation persistence. Intentionally designed and appropriately placed agroforestry plantings may also help to mitigate some of the edge effects upon remaining habitat patches by providing a buffer against changing light, temperature, and wind, which could effectively increase the amount of viable, interior habitat of individual patches.
Agroforestry takes farming beyond food production. It offers additional models by which to intentionally integrate perennial plants into my farm, allowing greater diversification, the opportunity to increase income, and improved wildlife habitat. This is why I am an early adopter of agroforestry practices in my region. I may struggle to call myself a farmer, but I soon hope to be a successful manager of an agroforest.