Question of the Week
Answer: : Integrating trees and shrubs with other enterprises on a farm can create additional sources of income, spread farm labor throughout the year, and increase the productivity of those other enterprises -- all while protecting soil, water, and wildlife. Such "agroforestry" systems include alleycropping, silvopasture, windbreaks, forest farming for nontimber forest products, and riparian buffer strips. While they clearly offer economic and ecological advantages, these agroforestry systems also involve complex interactions that complicate their management. When designing an agroforestry enterprise, you should research the marketing possibilities and include the agroforestry system in the total business plan for the farm.
First, I recommend that you review the ATTRA publication Agroforestry: An Overview. This publication presents an overview of common agroforestry practices, evaluating and planning considerations, marketing opportunities, several case studies, and an extensive list of further resources.
In addition, the following resources can help you choose plant materials for your agroforestry project. The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) maintains an extensive database at http://plants.usda.gov/index.html. In the column on the left, under Plants Topics, you will find several ways that you can find plants that meet different criteria. Characteristics might be a good place to start. Fact Sheets and Plant Guides also provide useful information on specific choices.
Another resource the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Guide, which offers many useful tools. The guide is available at http://www.arborday.org/treeguide/.
For comprehensive help planning your installation, consider reviewing the two volumes of Edible Forest Gardens, by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. These are excellent resources themselves, and they reference many other materials. In volume two, you will find nearly 200 pages of charts and tables in seven appendices. Plants are organized by many different criteria that could be helpful as you work on your design. This resource includes perennials and vegetables, as well as trees and shrubs. http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has designed some online tools that might be useful, as well. Most of them are available on the National Agroforestry Center's websitd (under Tools).
In particular, NRCS's CanVis can help you visualize how a planting will look immediately upon planting and shows its appearance as the planting ages. It is probably best used with an NRCS professional who is familiar with the program. For more information, visit www.unl.edu/nac/simulation/index.htm.
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