Agroforestry: integrating agriculture and trees
The integration of agriculture and tree production – known as agroforestry – is a promising option for farmers and also good for the environment and biodiversity. There are numerous possibilities for agroforestry in the Netherlands. To name just a few: growing fruit trees in outdoor areas for free-range chickens, planting fodder trees and shrubs in pastures for cows and goats, or setting up 'food forests': agroforestry systems with trees, shrubs, herbs, vegetables and animals, which together form a resilient food-producing ecosystem.
The benefits of including trees and shrubs in farming systems
Trees and shrubs offer numerous benefits. They provide fodder and shelter for livestock and increase nutrient availability as their roots access deeper soil layers. In addition, they produce timber and fruit, promote carbon sequestration, improve the soil with their leaf litter, and provide food and habitat to beneficial insects, birds and mammals. Last but not least, trees and hedges are part of our landscape heritage: they have been used for centuries to mark field boundaries and to fence in livestock, and, as such, have added to landscape beauty. The key advantage of agroforestry is that it allows multifunctional land use and provides room for biodiversity: agroforestry systems are 'nature-inclusive'.
Developing new agroforestry concepts
At the Louis Bolk Institute we are currently investigating which combinations of trees, shrubs and livestock are most effective. We are also developing new agroforestry concepts and assessing the environmental and biodiversity effects of these systems. The Louis Bolk Institute is a partner in the European project Agforward. To further promote and develop agroforestry in the Netherlands, the Louis Bolk Institute and the 'Dune Farmers' Foundation have founded the Dutch Agroforestry Association. This association is affiliated with the European Agroforestry Federation (EURAF), an international network for knowledge-sharing and promoting agroforestry solutions in farming systems.
Dutch examples on website European project
The European AGFORWARD project delivered a range of publications. Now there are more than 40 examples of trees combined with agriculture, including two Dutch ones: chickens in an apple orchard and fodder trees on a dairy farm. The online fodder tree database, containing the nutritional value of 100 fodder tree species, is updated and scientific papers have been published in 2017: see the menu on the right with heading 'Publications'.
Our systems approach
Thanks to our expertise in sustainable agriculture – in which soil health and functional biodiversity play a central role – we are keenly aware that all functions and processes in agricultural systems are interconnected. Our systems approach enables us to develop and test innovative farming practices, including agroforestry systems.
Fruit trees in outdoor area for free-range chickens
Nutritional potential of fodder trees on clay and sandy soils, 2017. Auteurs: B. Luske, N.J.M. van Eekeren
Presence of avian influenza risk birds in and around poultry free-range areas in relation to range vegetation and openness of surrounding landscape, 2017. Auteurs: M.W.P. Bestman, W. de Jong, J. Wagenaar, T. Weerts