Posted 14th Nov 2017
A recent meeting with representatives from the Farm Woodland Forum (the UK's agroforestry forum), Farming Minister George Eustice MP, expressed a keen commitment to include agroforestry in future domestic Agricultural Policy post Brexit
The ministerial meeting has come about at a time when agroforestry farming systems will be receiving considerable recognition for their economic, environmental and livestock welfare benefits across Europe. This is reflected in a new European-funded research project which is called AFINET (AgroForestry Innovation NETworks), which is being led in the UK by the Organic Research Centre and Abacus Agriculture.
AFINET has attracted 2,000,000 Euros under the European Commission's H2020 programme. Involving 13 partners from nine European regions, the project is looking to promote the implementation of agroforestry throughout Europe by improving the knowledge on the management and design of the systems.
Dr Jo Smith of the Organic Research Centre is leading AFINET in the UK with Abacus Agriculture in collaboration with the Farm Woodland Forum. Dr Smith said: "n 2016 the UK missed its target for planting woodland by 93% and we rank the lowest for woodland density in Europe. However, this figure could be significantly reduced by incorporating agroforestry into the farmed landscape."
Dr Smith continues: "The UK currently undervalues agroforestry although there is substantial potential to be unleashed in terms of climate change, enhancing biodiversity and improving water quality. Agroforestry also offers considerable welfare benefits for livestock and can help to keep agriculture competitive. We have been impressed by the interest in agroforestry by farmers in the UK, but there are knowledge gaps that that we need to resolve. Our new AFINET project aims to bridge these gaps to help farmers overcome perceived obstacles to agroforestry for the benefit of their farming business, environment and productivity."
Commenting on how the meeting went, Stephen Briggs from Abacus Agriculture - who attended the meeting with Mike Strachan and Dr Paul Burgess, said: "Our meeting with the Minister was extremely positive. Coming from a farming family in Cornwall he could appreciate the benefits of incorporating trees into agricultural production and he showed a genuine desire to look at ways to join up forestry and agroforestry. In the past this has fallen down a crack in the middle and government recognises that the current agri-environment framework stifles innovation in this field. However, we do need to develop workable business models for agroforestry to increase its adoption by the farming community. The AFINET project will act as a catalyst to do this."
The newly launched EU AFINET project proposes an innovative approach by setting up Regional Agroforestry Innovation Networks (RAINS). These working groups will be formed by a balanced representation of farmers, foresters, government services and advisers who have gathered together to share their knowledge and experience on agroforestry to increase and improve the current uptake.
Dr Smith added: "Agroforestry in the UK offers great potential and we already have some fantastic examples of farmers that have developed successful, innovative and profitable agroforestry projects on their land. We know that there are lots of people out there who are interested but they don’t know where to start. This is an ideal opportunity to get all these people together to share experiences and expertise and start the ball rolling."
Dr Smith and Stephen Briggs will be speaking at an on-farm agroforestry event at the GWCT Allerton Project farm at Loddington, Leicestershire on 23rd November.
Images courtesy of the Organic Research Centre