Agroforestry is a sustainable land-use system that involves the intentional integration and management of trees, crops, and/or livestock in a single management unit. This system offers more economical, environmental, and social benefits compared to the sole operation of its components. Well-managed agroforestry systems provide economic viability through regular, short-term incomes from crop and/or livestock components, and long-term incomes from trees. Most of the Southeastern forest consists of pine trees, which require 20 to 30 years to mature. Landowners with sole pine plantations have to manage the tree stands (i.e., thinning, pruning, and burning) several times before trees are harvested, and pay property tax annually; a similar scenario is true with non-pine woodlands. Although hunting leases of woodlands can provide incomes, adoption of agroforestry practices can benefit landowners with additional regular income opportunities. There are five major agroforestry practices - silvopasture (Fig. 1), alley cropping, forest farming, windbreaks, and riparian buffers - that landowners can choose from to fit into their operations and the market demand for the expected products.
Figure 1. Longleaf and loblolly pine silvopasture, Atkins Agroforestry Research and Demonstration Site, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL.
The Southeastern Region has a great potential for developing various agroforestry practices because of its suitable environment for growing all components of agroforestry systems. However, the adoption of agroforestry practices is currently negligible because of inadequate research and Extension education. To serve this need, an Agroforestry Extension Education Program was developed at Tuskegee University with a silvopasture training in 2010. The training event was conducted annually until 2013. During this time, 80 professionals, farmers, and landowners were trained. In 2014, with the collaboration of 1890 Agroforestry Consortium (1890 AC) member institutions (Alabama A&M University, Alcorn State University, Florida A&M University, and North Carolina A&T State University) and the funding support of Southern SARE, this program was expanded to incorporate other aspects of agroforestry – alley cropping, forest farming, windbreaks, riparian buffers, ecosystem services, and economics of agroforestry systems. With this collaborative effort, Agroforestry Training Curricula (handbook) (Fig. 3) was developed and used to conduct curricula-based, hands-on training sessions in the Southeast (Figs. 2, 4, 5).
Figure 2. Agroforestry trainees involved in collecting soil sample, October 2014, Atkins Agroforestry Research and Demonstration Site, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL.
There are 11 chapters in the Agroforestry Training Handbook: Silvopasture Introduction, Establishment and Management of Trees in Silvopasture Systems, Forage Selection and Establishment in a Silvopasture System, Suitable Animal Species and Facility Requirements for Grazing in a Silvopasture System, Sustainable Grazing Management in a Silvopasture System, Non-Timber Forest Products: Forest Farming, Alley Cropping, Riparian Buffers, Windbreaks, Ecosystem Services, and Economics of Agroforestry Systems. Chapters were reviewed by experts from various land-grant universities, National Agroforestry Center, and US Forest Service. This handbook is now available to the public for free online: http://www.tuskegee.edu/sites/www/Uploads/Users/732/Files/tucep/Agroforestry/Agroforestry_Handbook.pdf
Five curricula-based regional training sessions were conducted in 2014 and 2015 in different states of the Southeast (3 in Alabama, 1 in North Carolina, and 1 in Florida). Agroforestry research and demonstration sites present at the facility of or near the host institutions/sites (Tuskegee University, Alabama A&M University, Florida A&M University, and North Carolina A&T State University) were used for hands-on activities, demonstration, and site tours. A total of 181 professionals, farmers, and landowners from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Missouri participated in the training events. Participants learned different aspects of agroforestry practices: silvopasture, forest farming, alley cropping, tree management (Fig. 4), soil management (Fig. 2), windbreaks, riparian buffers, ecosystem services, grazing management with proper animal care, economics of agroforestry systems, beekeeping, and mushroom production on tree logs. Trainees increased their knowledge on various aspects of agroforestry by 23 percent. Two landowner trainees used the learned skills and knowledge to improve an existing silvopasture or develop a new silvopasture system. Several other landowners expressed that they were considering adopting some type of agroforestry practices in the near future. Trained professionals were found educating their clientele about the agroforestry practices.
Figure 4. Agroforestry trainees involved in pruning, September 2015, Atkins Agroforestry Research and Demonstration Site, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL.
Figure 5. Agroforestry trainees engaged in silvopasture site tour and group discussion, November 2014, USDA NRCS East National Technology Support Center, Greensboro, NC.
Tuskegee University and other 1890 AC partners are planning to work together, and independently, to continue the efforts on promoting agroforestry research and extension education in the Southeast. Currently, experts from Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M University are collaborating on a USDA-AFRI-funded project - Agroforestry-Based Cropping Systems for Sustaining Small- and Medium-Sized Landowners in the Southeastern US.