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Agroforestry Overview Silvopasture Alley Cropping Forage Trees and Shrubs Water Management Wind Breaks and Hedgerows

Agroforestry Overview:

Agroforestry is used to increase water holding capacity, prevent soil erosion, provide windbreaks, etc. It also includes producing products from the forest. Below are some examples:

Dr. Miguel Altieri - ecologically operated farms are more productve
Sustainable agriculture on the Loess Plateau
EverGreen agriculture in Africa
Diversity of ecoagriculture in Africa
Mark Shepard on Restoration Agriculture

Switching to permaculture crops for many of our staples can be very efficient and stable in spite of climate change.

Badgersett - woody agriculture efficiency

These pictures of what agriculture was like in the 1800 is what agriculture will return to once the current chemical ladden, monoculture, government handout supported system can no longer be sustained. There will be a thinner line between polyculture orchards and silvopasture.

Historic Agroforestry

Mixed species orchards, vineyards, alley cropping, and silvopasture will help prevent disease by forming complex networks of mycorrhizal fungus where the trees and vines help each other fight off disease. It also confuses insects.

PLOS ONE - mycorrhizal network shared across many plants
Nature - Complex Plant Fungus Networks
Willow, Cottonwood, Aspen, Hickory, and Walnut connect networks
University of Missouri - forest crop diversity


Silvopasture can actually increase productivity.

Living Web Farms - Geoffrey Steen on cold climate silvopasture
VTForages - Silvopasture overview, Honeylocust
Forest Connect - Silvopasture examples, Honeylocust
Mark Shepard - silvopasture
KYForages - silvopasture shade benefits animals

Alley Cropping:

Agroforestry can enhance annual row crops with alley cropping.

University of Missouri - alley cropping
USDA - alley cropping

Many of the drought tolerant trees and bushes listed below are good for alley cropping because they have deep roots that will not compete with the crop. Ideal candidates are Italian Alder, sterile Paulownia, sterile Shipmast, Tulip Tree, Scots Pine, Persian Ironwood, sterile Siberian Pea Shrub, sterile Silverscape, Winterbloom, etc. Others may not be appropriate if fruit or nut drop would interfere with the annual crop and may work better in a silvopasture or polyculture orchard system. Black Walnut is not a good choice for alley cropping because of the allelopathic properties of juglone.

Trees and bushes used for alley cropping or habitat strips can also help keep the mycorrhizal network alive during the winter, when annual crops have died and no longer provide living roots. Ectomycorrhizal trees and bushes are useful if brassica is grown as an annual crop since brassica interact with ectomycorrhizal fungus. These include oak, chestnut, hickory, spruce, pine, hazelnut, chinkapin, pecan, etc. Be sure to evenly mix trees and shrubs that are both ecto and endomycorrhizal; such as alder, cherry, willow, cottonwood, aspen, plum, schisandra, grape, etc. This will help to tie the seperate endo and ectomycorrhizal networks and increase the overall strength of the system.

Alley cropping can also benefit from special treatment. Root pruning can be used to reduce competition for nutrients. Root pruning even has benefits in orchards.

Good Fruit - alley cropping is making a comeback
NRCS - general root pruning guidelines
Iowa State - root pruning

Forage Trees and Shrubs:

Most of these trees can be coppiced to keep them accessable to animals. An even better tactic is to have animals which will do the coppicing for you, such as Galloway or Highland cattle. If fields are not overgrazed, the animals will regularly have access to young green shoots. Other fruiting species can be auto harvested by the animals.


Willow (Salix spp.):

(Point of origin: Europe, Western Asia) Advantages: Leaf forage. Roots can go deep so leaf is mineral rich. Reproduces from rhizomes. Some varieties are ideal for planting near berms: Salix nigra - very tolerant of water Salix alba - somewhat tolerant of water Salix bebbiana, exigua, interior, scouleriana - flood and drought tolerant Disadvantages: Roots can invade water pipes. Information: Wikipedia University of Connecticut Canadian Journal of Botany: P. nigra - drought resistance City of Colorado Springs: Salix alba vitellina - drought tolerance Drought tolerant willows - bebbiana, exigua, interior, scouleriana USDA: Intermountain browsing willows for uplands - scouleriana Willow *******

Cottonwood (Populus spp.):

(Point of origin: North America) Advantages: Only moderately tolerant of drought. Some varieties are ideal for planting near berms: Populus deltoides - somewhat tolerant of water Disadvantages: Black Poplar is toxic Information: Poplar is the source of bee propalis Oxford Journals Northern State University USDA - Black Cottonwood Populus fremontii Zapata - drought tolerant Plains and Rio Grande Cottonwood ( monilifera and wislizeni ) - water and drought tolerant *******

Alder (Alnus sp.):

(Point of origin: North America and Europe ) Advantages: Very good nitrogen fixer. Young sprouts are excellant for all cattle. Depending on species and water conditions, roots can be shallow or deep. Most varieties are water tolerant, but Italian Alder is drought tolerant. Disadvantages: Catkins used as food by moths, but can also be used as food for domestic animals. New sprouts are easily overgrazed. Information: Wikipedia - Alnus sp. Alder - limited mycorrhizal species Alder - cross mycorrhizal species Alder - few shared networks *******

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides):

(Point of origin: North America ) Advantages: Excellant for sheep and certain cattle such as Highland and Galloway. Heavy suckering tree so tolerates grazing. Roots can go deep so leaf is mineral rich. Disadvantages: Easily over grazed. Information: Oregon - Aspen Management Utah State Aspen Wiki *******

Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis):

(Point of origin: North America) Season: warm Hay: Y Yield: palatable Nutrition: Moderate Bloat: N Intense grazing: N Planting: bloom early to mid summer, allow to reseed Propagation: perennial bush Drought tolerant: Y Disease / Insect Problems: None Info: Illinois Bundleflower University of Purdue - Bundleflower University of Wisconsin - Bundleflower ******

Lespedeza (Lespedeza virginica or capitata ):

(Point of origin: North America) Season: warm Hay: Y Yield: palatable Nutrition: Moderate Bloat: N Intense grazing: N Planting: difficult to establish Propagation: perennial, long lived Drought tolerant: Y Disease / Insect Problems: None, do not plant non-native sericea which is invasive Advantages: nitrogen fixing bush. cattle forage non-invasive. Disadvantages: do not plant Lespedeza sericea in non-native habitat it is too invasive Information: University of Minnesota University of Wisconsin USDA Kansas Native Plant Society US Forestry Service USDA Kansas Natural Heritage Inventory *******

Leadplant ( Amorpha canescens ):

(Point of origin: North America) Season: warm Hay: Y Yield: low Nutrition: High, very palatable Bloat: N Intense grazing: N Planting: Spring Propagation: perennial, seed or cuttings Drought tolerant: Y, deep tap root Disease / Insect Problems: None Advantages: Legume bush. Very nutritious and palatable. Fixes nitrogen Disadvantages: Easily overgrazed. Rhizobia: Mesorhizobium amorphae Information: USDA - Leadplant University of Minnesota - native legumes - perennial legume study USDA / NRCS - Leadplant Kansas Native Plant Society

Water Management:

Use permaculture and silvopasture techniques to create micro-habitats. Use swales, berms, ditches, dry wells, etc. to control flooding and droughts. Plant trees and shrubs that are both fairly water and drought tolerant on the downside of the berm where drought tolerance is not as important and roots can grow under the berm to help secure it. On top of the berm, plant extremely drought tolerant grasses, legumes, and forbs. Do not plant trees or bushes on the top of berms as their mature weight will eventually cause the berm to sink.

John D. Liu - Green Gold
Mark Shepard - restoration agriculture
Berms and Swales
Keyline water management Australia
Water and soil erosion in Wisconsin
Soil erosion in Africa

Trees, shrubs, and vines which are the most tolerant of waterlogged soil are listed in the links below. They should be planted down hill below berms. The most water tolerant are Black Willow, Serviceberry, American Persimmon, and Cottonwood. Moderately flood tolerant includes Honey Locust, Mulberry, Blueberry, Pecan, Tulip Tree, Seaberry, Aronia, Elderberry, Blackberry, Honey Berry, Raspberry, Ginkgo, Cranberry, Cornelian Cherry, Viburnum, Redbud, Paw Paw, Hickory, etc. One advantage of swales and berms is that the water should naturally be very well oxygenated so plants have a better chance of long term flood tolerance.

USDA Forest Service
Iowa State
Penn State

Of course some of the trees and shrubs will need to be shade tolerant. Some of the more shade tolerant varieties are persimmon, serviceberry, paw paw, aronia, witchhazel, Viburnum, redbud, chokeberry, hops, cornelian cherry, currant, blackberry, raspberry, seaberry, etc.

Penn State
Univ of Minnesota

Wind Breaks and Hedgerows:

Deciduous hedgerows are a great way to create a low cost fence to control livestock. They also create a more stabile micro-climate and help protect against erosion. They provide wind and sun protection for livestock, habitat for wildlife, and increase biodiversity of species. It is especially useful for keeping out feral competitive or prey animals.

Hazelnut (Corylus americana) is a very disease resistant bush that works great in hedgerows. Wild American Plum (Prunus americana) is a very disease/drought resistant shrub. Steril Siberian Pea (Caragana arborescens) is also useful. Ginkgo biloba is also a good choice since it is disease / insect free and improves soil enzyme levels. Most of these have suckers that will form an impenetrable base. Many goats and even some cattle (such as Highland or Galloway cattle) will eat a hedgerow.

Wiki Hedge
Hedging UK
Permaculture - pollinators
Colorado State

Bushes that bear small fruits can be ideal to attract birds which will also eat insects. ( Bayberry, Winterberry, Gray Dogwood, Nannyberry, Highbush Cranberry, Red-twig Dogwood, Chokeberries, Staghorn Sumac, Crabapples, Arrowwood, Pagoda Dogwood, Virginia Creeper, etc. )

Evergreen windbreaks are most useful around cattle pastures to provide wind protection during winter. White Cedar and Blue Spruce are especially good winter wind breaks in very cold winter climates. Evergreens should not be browsed by cattle as they will impart a bad flavor. Some cedar, juniper, and hawthorn can contribute to apple rust. Cyprus or bamboo are better for hot regions.

Temperate Evergreen Windbreaks
Kansas State
Morton Arboretum
Plants Beautiful Nursery - evergreen
Purdue - Juniper and Cedar diseases
University of Florida

Deer proof plants may also be valuable.

Texas A&M


Unfortunately, many of the plants traditionally used for hedgerows (such as Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) ) can be hosts to fruit diseases. If you are also trying to grow fruit, you may want to avoid them. At the very least, look for resistant strains and remove diseased plants as soon as they show signs of susceptibility.

Penn State - Hawthorn diseases
University of Connecticut - Hawthorn varieties
Forestry Snowdrift
USDA - Snowdrift
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