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The SAFE research project was sponsored by the European Union, and was coordinated by INRA (France). More than 70 scientists from eight European countries participated in the project from August 2001 to January 2005.

harvesting beneath poplars Harvesting beneath the poplars, in Vezenobre, o­n a plot approaching the end of its cycle. This experimental parcel, under the SAFE programme, is making it possible to monitor crop productivity until the trees are felled, o­n reaching a good size, which is programmed for the near future.
- Christian Dupraz - INRA

The SAFE project explored how trees could be maintained or re-introduced in agricultural systems of Europe. The most significant results are detailed below.

  1. Many traditional European agroforestry systems disappeared during the 20th century. Intensification, mechanization and land consolidation were the most important incentives for tree removal from cultivated areas. Isolated trees, trees in hedges, and low-density tree stands (such as traditional high-stem low density orchards) were massively removed.
  2. During the last 30 years, the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) was another reason for the removal of trees from agricultural systems in Europe. Trees are not considered part of the cropping systems, and CAP payments for crops or pastures are often reduced for parcels with scattered trees (including boundary trees). This negative impact was not an objective of the CAP, but was the consequence of regulations that do not take into account the positive impact of rural trees. In the new member states, CAP regulations may induce the destruction of millions of trees in the coming decade.
  3. The loss of many traditional agroforestry systems in Europe has had unfortunate consequences: loss of know-how by farmers, simplification and standardization of landscapes, increased environmental problems such as soil erosion and water pollution, significant carbon release, reduction of biodiversity, loss of habitat for natural enemies of crop pests, and the loss of a source of alternative income for farmers.
  4. For the past four years, accurate monitoring of trees and crops in various silvoarable systems has been performed in experimental plots in France, England, Spain and Italy. The impact of tree density, tree size and tree pruning schemes o­n crops productivity was analyzed, quantified and modeled.
  5. The SAFE project has demonstrated that modern agroforestry systems are compatible with present-day agricultural techniques. Specific tree management schemes are necessary (such as tree alignment and stem formative pruning). In modern agroforestry systems, low final tree densities (30-100 trees/ha) allow crop production to be maintained until tree harvest. The SAFE project similarly has demonstrated that the average productivity of severable systems is higher than the combined productivity of separate tree and crop systems. Productivity increases of up to 30% in biomass, and 60% in final products have been observed.
  6. Biophysical models have been constructed to simulate the dynamics of tree-crop systems in various soil and climatic conditions. These models allow predictions of competition for light, water and nitrogen between trees and crops. They also predict how many years the crops will be profitable, and how fast the trees will grow. Finally, model outcomes exemplify some very favorable environmental impacts of tree-crop systems, such as a reduction in nitrogen leaching or an increase in carbon sequestration. Management practices for silvoarable systems can thus be evaluated through "virtual experiments" o­n computers using these models.
  7. A key result of the SAFE project is that tree-crop systems are able to capture more resources from the environment than pure crop or pure tree systems: competition induces adaptation, and adaptation results in facilitation, a process that explains why mixed plots are significantly more productive than pure plots.
  8. Using the SAFE models, optimum management schemes can be derived for tree stand densities, tree spacing, tree row orientation, tree species choice, intercrop rotation choice, and specific tree and crop management techniques, such as tree root pruning.
  9. Economic calculations show that agroforestry plots are often as profitable as agricultural plots in no-grant scenarios, and that they are often more profitable when including high value timber trees (such as walnut or Sorbus trees). Annual crops maintain the annual income for the farmer, while managed low density tree stands provide capital for the future.
  10. Current policies prevent European farmers from adopting silvoarable agroforestry: in most cases, farmers will lose the crop payments and are not eligible for any subsidy to plant the trees. This is why at the moment agroforestry is artificially unattractive for European farmers (with the exception of France who recently has adapted its regulations - see next article).
  11. Most European farmers could develop an agroforestry activity o­n part of their cropland, without a significant reduction in crop annual income. A farm that would turn about 20% of its cropped land into agroforestry could increase significantly in value. With high-value timber, the timber income might double the farm profit in the long term (60 years).
  12. Agroforestry adoption requires that tax rules and cadastral issues be implemented fairly for agroforestry plots. These regulations should be addressed by national regulations in each European country.
  13. A survey of more than 260 European farmers in seven European countries has shown that European farmers are surprisingly perceptive with respect to agroforestry issues. More than 40% would be willing to adopt agroforestry techniques o­n their farm. In France, 12% of the surveyed farmers were already engaged in agroforestry activities, 2 years o­nly after having been interviewed. They devoted about 15% of the cropped land of the farm to this activity.
  14. At European scale, 90 million hectares are potentially suitable for silvoarable agroforestry and 65 million hectares would benefit from silvoarable plantations to contribute to mitigation of some key environmental problems such as soil erosion or nitrate leaching. If 20% of the European farmers of these areas would adopt agroforestry o­n 20% of their farm, it would result in 2.6 million hectares of silvoarable agroforestry in Europe. The quality timber that would be available from this activity would help reduce the need for importing high quality tropical timber.
  15. Current CAP regulations are not logical with respect to trees o­n cultivated land. o­n the o­ne hand, CAP first pillar payments (Single Payment Scheme) provide incentives to farmers to destroy rural trees to get more payments. o­n the other hand, CAP second pillar arrangements (Rural Development Regulation) encourage farmers to protect or introduce trees. The SAFE project has produced guidelines for policy options in Europe that would permit European farmers to take advantage of agroforestry.
measuring young walnut trees in wheat fields Measuring young walnut trees growing in wheat fields o­n experimental agroforestry plots at INRA (France). - Christian Dupraz - INRA

The four major SAFE policy proposals for allowing European farmers to adopt Agroforestry are:

SAFE Policy Proposal 1. A definition of agroforestry should be included in European regulations. We suggest the following definition that would include isolated trees, tree-hedges and low-density tree stands.

Agroforestry systems refer to an agriculture land use system in which high-stem trees are growing combination with agricultural commodities o­n the same plot. The tree component of agroforestry systems can be isolated trees, tree-hedges, and low-density tree stands. Agroforestry plot is defined by two characteristics: 
at least 50% of the area of the plot is in crop or pasture production, 
tree density is less than 200/ha (of stems greater than 15 cm in diameter at 1.3 meter height), including boundary trees.

This definition is simple, and clearly distinguishes between agroforestry and forestry. Member states could define specific thresholds for some traditional systems if required.

SAFE Policy Proposal 2. The total area of an agroforestry parcel should be eligible for the Single Payment Scheme.

This proposal:

- is compatible with existing Regulations
- removes the contradiction between the two pillars of the CAP o­n rural trees (farmers will no longer be stimulated to remove trees to get CAP payments)
- simplifies controls, and therefore saves a lot of European money

SAFE Policy Proposal 3. Agroforestry systems should be backed by the Rural Development Regulation (RDR, CAP second pillar)

The current draft RDR for 2008-2013 includes a welcome and innovative Article 41 that introduces support for the establishment of new agroforestry systems. It could be supplemented:

To include maintenance costs for agroforestry planting in the same way as in Article 40 for forest plantations.
To support the eligibility of existing agroforestry systems for improvement and environmental payments.

This is justified, because of additional management costs of improving the environmental and recreation value of agroforestry stands. Several proposed agri-environmental payments would be relevant, and the French agroforestry environmental measure that was approved by the STAR committee in 2001 could serve as a model.

SAFE Policy Proposal 4. The EU Action Plan for Sustainable Forest Management should emphasize the need to maintain or increase the presence of scattered trees in farmed landscapes (agroforestry). The 1998 European Union Forest Strategy refers to agroforestry in several places, but agroforestry was not considered in the recent 85-page commission paper o­n implementation of the Forestry Strategy during the past five years. The EU Commission is preparing an Action Plan for Sustainable Forest Management (expected in 2006). This action plan should recognize the role of rural trees in a sustainable farming landscape. Modern silvoarable systems allow trees to be introduced back in cultivated or grazed plots either as aligned or scattered widely spaced trees. In both cases, crop production is maintained, and environmental benefits from the trees are significant.

parasols stimulate the shadow cast "Parasols" serve to stimulate the shadow cast by trees and thereby distinguish between the effect of shade and the competition for water and nitrogen between the trees and the arable crops.
- Christian Dupraz - INRA

(adapted from SAFE agroforestry website

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