Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Exploring New Options for Agroforestry

A Dust Bowl era poster urged farmers to plant windbreaks.

A Dust Bowl era poster urged farmers to plant windbreaks.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The language on the 1930s poster for the Prairie States Forestry Project was downright plaintive: “Trees Prevent Soil Erosion/Save Moisture/Protect Crops/Contribute to Human Comfort and Happiness.”

The mission of the project, initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to encourage landowners to plant tree windbreaks on cropland ravaged by dust storms and drought. As a result, more than 210 million trees from North Dakota to Texas were planted in 18,500 miles of windbreaks, some of which still remain.

Now Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Tom Sauer is working to bring more trees to the Central Plains, and he’s expanding their role.

Sauer is exploring whether trees planted as windbreaks can provide a sustainable supply of feedstock for bioenergy production. He also wants to develop projections of how much carbon these trees could potentially sequester in their woody biomass and in the soil, which would help reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

With a grant from USDA’s North Central Region Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (NCR-SARE) program,  Sauer and researchers from Iowa State University, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service are currently conducting surveys with farmers and ranchers interested in adding agroforestry to their land-use practices. The interviews give farmers a chance to explore land-use tradeoffs and identify agroforestry management issues such as planting, maintenance, and harvesting methods.

This first round of discussions will help the team fine-tune future field surveys and develop a more comprehensive understanding of the key issues and concerns farmers have about agroforestry. Sauer also hopes to develop a comprehensive financial and land-user based socio-economic assessment that will complement field studies with a complete accounting and evaluation of producer interest in Central Plains agroforestry systems.

“In the end, we need to gauge landowner interest in agroforestry,” Sauer says. “Once we’ve finished that first step, then we can develop research plans to better address those needs.”

In 2011, USDA released the Agroforestry Strategic Framework to provide direction across the Department and explain how USDA agencies are joining forces to support the science and adoption of agroforestry. More information can be found at the USDA Agroforestry website.

ARS soil scientist Tom Sauer in a 110-year-old tree windbreak in the Kamennaya Steppe of Russia.

ARS soil scientist Tom Sauer in a 110-year-old tree windbreak in the Kamennaya Steppe of Russia.

2 Responses to “Exploring New Options for Agroforestry”

  1. Junin Chang ManGing says:

    Hoy en dia existe la agricultura de precisión o por sitio especifico, las áreas deben de contar con un mapa textural de suelos para la toma de las mejores decisiones de las especies a sembrar. Existen cultivos energéticos no alimentarios para la generación de biodiesel que se desarrollan en suelo inhóspitos e inclusive regeneran los suelos, se pueden aplicar algunas variables, incluyendo cultivo hidroponicos para que el agricultor cuente con ingresos a corto, mediano y largo plazo, todo depende de la visión holistica sintagmática en que se aprecie el grave problema en las reservas Indias de Sioux, Cherokees que requieren los fondos reembolsables para la inversión y la justa voluntad de apoyo del gobierno.

    Sdos Cordiales

  2. Dave Sansone says:

    Agroforestry has much to offer. Native species and pollinator habitat can be included in wind/pest/fire breaks. The ecological services that can result may reduce the need to import bees for pollination and use pesticides.

    In farm shrub hedgerows can offer many benefits while still allowing crops to receive full sunlight.

Leave a Reply