By Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy and NFU Foundation

Last week, the Climate Column discussed one practice, alley cropping, that builds climate resilience of farmland by incorporating trees. The National Agroforesty Center (NAC) promotes other such practices, including forest farming. Forest farming “is the cultivation of high-value specialty crops under the protection of a forest canopy that has been modified to provide the correct shade level.” Crops suitable for this practice include mushrooms, ornamental plants, nuts, and medicinal herbs.

Forest farming can often make the implementation of other conservation practices more feasible. Farmers installing new tree stands or or replacing existing ones, which may used for windbreaks or riparian buffers, may be able to secure some added value from these stands by growing high-value specialty crops in the stand’s shade. Adding or retaining trees on the land stores more atmospheric carbon on the farm, prevents erosion, and enhances soil health for more traditional commodity or specialty crops. Forest farming can bring these goals within reach by allowing producers to secure additional value from land dedicated to trees.

Additionally, the added income stream can diversify farm incomes and may offer advantages to inter-generational farms hoping to include upcoming generations, as was discussed in last week’s alley cropping column. As with all farming practices, successful forest farming requires research and understanding of the markets available for the crops grown in the shade.

Do you have trees on your farm in which high-value medicinal or culinary crops could be grown? Would adding another such enterprise assist your farm in an inter-generational transition? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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