Agriculture and Forestry: 5 Ways Agroforestry Can Work for You and Your Land

Agroforestry is the intentional integration of trees or shrubs with crop and animal production. The result? A more diverse agricultural operation, boosted profits, and conservation gains. If you’re interested in agroforestry, there are five popular practices to consider for your working land.

Agroforestry requires putting the right tree in the right place for the right reason. It mixes agriculture and forestry practices to create profitable and sustainable farms, ranches, and woodlands.

Protected topsoil, livestock, and wildlife habitat. Increased crop yields and profits. Reduced energy and chemical inputs. Improved water quality and increased water-use efficiency. These are just a few of the potential benefits of agroforestry for your operation.

There is no right or wrong time to start using agroforestry practices on your land. If you’re ready to diversify your farm’s portfolio and improve your income, here are five popular practices to consider:

  1. WINDBREAKS are plantings of single or multiple rows of trees, shrubs, or both, that shelter crops, soil, animals, homes, and people from wind, snow, dust, or odors. Windbreaks save energy and cut home heating costs. Windbreaks also help net big gains in carbon storage, improve income by increasing crop yields, and protect livestock from heat and cold stress.

    Windbreaks across a landscape.
  2. RIPARIAN FOREST BUFFERS are trees, shrubs, and grasses located next to rivers, streams, and lakes to help protect aquatic resources by filtering farm runoff and preventing erosion. Buffer areas can support wildlife habitat, produce crops, improve water quality, and reduce flood damage.

    Aerial view of riparian forest buffers.
  3. SILVOPASTURE combines trees with a livestock operation by managing forage, livestock, and trees on the same acreage. Silvopasture provides shade and shelter for livestock while benefiting forage production and improving carbon sequestration. This combination can also bring in extra income from timber products, Christmas trees, or recreation.

    Cattle stand in shade under trees.
  4. ALLEY CROPPING grows crops between maturing trees, called alleyways. This system diversifies operations by creating both annual and long-term income streams. It can also protect crops, improve water quality, improve nutrient utilization, and enhance carbon sequestration.

    Rows of crops grown between trees.
  5. FOREST FARMING grows and protects high-value specialty crops under the forest canopy, which is adjusted to the correct shade level the crops prefer. This is done by thinning an existing forest to leave the best canopy trees for continued timber production while creating ideal growing conditions for the understory crop. Non-timber forest products grown using forest farming methods don’t just provide an additional source of income – they also help conserve habitat for wildlife.

    Crops grown under a forest canopy.

USDA supports agricultural producers through a new five-year agroforestry strategic framework, which is a roadmap to advance agroforestry resources and provide assistance to landowners for productive and healthy farms, ranches, woodlands, and communities. See which NRCS agroforestry practices are offered in your state.

Contact your local service center to learn more about USDA resources and programs to support agroforestry practices across your working land.