In a world of seemingly overwhelming environmental problems, it is good to know there are practical solutions available to meet these challenges head on. Agroforestry is one of the ‘green’ technologies that can help the agricultural industry meet and exceed society’s demands for sustainable production practices. Or as I like to think of agroforestry, it is where the ‘green’ rubber hits the environmentally friendly road.
Agroforestry systems integrate trees or shrubs with other agricultural production (and also, in the case of forest farming, integrate cultivation of food, fibre or natural health products in forested systems). These systems blend agriculture, silviculture and conservation practices in the same land use system to reap the social, economic and environmental synergies that result. As my homage to Earth day, I wanted to focus on the environmental benefits of adopting agroforestry. A wonderful thing about agroforestry is that it can function to serve both conservation and production roles. Implementing conservation doesn’t become a financial burden for the land owner, in fact, it can generate income. Agroforestry is conservation that pays. So here are 10 ways agroforestry will make the planet cleaner and greener:
1. As Carbon Sinks. Reintroducing trees and shrubs on lands cleared for agriculture provides a practical means to increase the amount of carbon stored both in the woody material and in soil carbon.
2. Providing Wildlife Habitat. Trees and shrubs add to the both the structural diversity and biodiversity of our agricultural landscapes.
3. Preventing Wind Erosion. Shelterbelts are a proven technology for interrupting the potentially erosive force of wind.
4. Trapping Dust. Trees and shrubs can be planted in belts to trap dust along roads, or in pockets to eliminate point sources such as from the exhaust fans from barns.
5. Reducing odour. Research done at Iowa State University and published in the journal Agroforestry Systems, demonstrated that shelterbelts can provide long term, year round odour interception from intensive livestock operations (read swine barns), with increasing effectiveness over time.
6. Decreasing noise pollution. Work by the USDA has shown that a functional buffer of trees and shrubs can reduce noise by about five to ten decibels.
7. Preventing energy loss. According to the Agroforestry Division of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, properly designed and maintained five-row shelterbelts can reduce energy loss from buildings due to the effects of wind but as much as 25%.
8. Cooling water. The shade cast by trees and shrubs along streams and rivers cools the water, and through that, improves the habitat for fish and other aquatic critters.
9. Stabilizing stream banks. Deep rooted trees and shrubs anchor soil in place, preventing high water flows from eroding away stream and river banks and adjacent lands.
10. Improving the view. Good fences make good neighbors and a well placed row of trees and shrubs will make the whole community happy. Shelterbelts are excellent edge planning tools allowing for an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ solution to the less pleasant views of life.