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Agroforestry and New SWAAN Partnership

Steven Price USU Extension Assistant Professor of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and 4-H (Carbon County)

07/07/2020

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Permaculture demonstration site at New Mexico State University Agriculture Science Center

Broadly defined, agroforestry is the intentional mixing of trees and shrubs into crop and animal production systems to benefit our economy, our environment, and our society. Agroforestry has been practiced by many people and cultures world-wide for perhaps thousands of years. Subsistence agriculture systems, particularly prevalent in the tropics, often include woody perennials that are needed to shade livestock and provide firewood in combination with plants for food, fiber, or medicine. Some of these areas continue to be converted to large-scale monoculture production (e.g., palm oil plantations) where true agroforestry practices are being lost. Agroforestry principles and practices can be applied in both tropical and temperate regions. Agroforestry offers solutions to environmental issues (soil erosion, water pollution) associated with productivity intensification, borrowing from both ancient indigenous practices and modern technologies. Some would argue that innovation in agroforestry practices have somewhat lagged post Green Revolution in many temperate areas, but interest has noticeably increased the past few decades. Many agriculturalists and resource managers may have unknowingly integrated at least some small aspects of agroforestry into their routines. In North America, the five basic categories of practices, as defined by Association for Temperate Agroforestry, are “…windbreaks, alley cropping, silvopasture, riparian buffers and forest farming.”1. Silvopasture refers to the practice of grazing livestock in pasturelands that are also managed for economically significant trees. Forest farming refers to the management and production of crops, such as mushrooms, medicinal plants, edible plants, or specialty “non-timber” products, in the protective understory of a managed or natural forest. This goes beyond simply collecting natural products and the trees are often intentionally managed for production as well. Related management systems, such as community food forests and permaculture, are often included under the umbrella term of agroforestry. The benefits of agroforestry integration include increased on-farm biodiversity and enterprise diversification; increased ecosystem services; greater synergistic advantages for production; soil, water, and land resource conservation; natural disaster resiliency; increased carbon sequestration; and local foodscape development and enhancement.

USDA’s National Agroforestry Center2 aims to accelerate the application of agroforestry through a national network of partners. The USDA estimated in 20123 that agroforestry was practiced on less than 1 percent of the suitable land in the United States, but also recognized a great potential for expansion. To get a better handle on agroforestry application/adoption, the USDA included the first agroforestry practice question in its Census of Agriculture in 2012. In the southwestern U.S., unique barriers to adoption exist with water availability being a particularly difficult limiting factor in Utah, as well as Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Recognizing the need for regionally focused partnerships and education to overcome these barriers, the Southwest Agroforestry Action Network (SWAAN) was formed in 2018. This collaborative effort has brought together producers, agencies, tribes, and other stakeholders to “share information and facilitate connections among potential collaborators and partners.” This is meant to “generate ideas for research and other agroforestry-related initiatives” and “increase adoption of agroforestry in the Southwest U.S. by agricultural producers, forest landowners, and communities.”4.

SWAAN’s 2020 annual in-person conference was scheduled to take place in March in Tucson, Arizona, but canceled before the event took place due to COVID-19. SWAAN’s executive committee is currently considering options for future in-person and virtual conferences. On July 14, 2020 (9 a.m. to 10 a.m., MST), SWAAN and the Arizona Community Tree Council will cohost a webinar, “How to choose, plant, care for and harvest edible trees in the Southwest”. There is no cost but registration is needed (www.aztrees.org/event-3895330). Additionally, SWAAN is collecting information for active food forest or permaculture demonstration sites or private projects as part of a survey for Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. If you have information to be included in this survey, contact SWANN via Steven Price (UT representative: steven.price@usu.edu) or Andy Mason (secretary: acmason1954@gmail.com). 

1. Association of Temperate Agroforestry. (n.d.) What is Agroforestry. https://www.aftaweb.org/about/what-is-agroforestry.html
2. USDA National Agroforestry Center (n.d.) https://www.fs.usda.gov/nac/
3. Agroforestry: USDA Reports to America, Fiscal Years 2011-2012 – Comprehensive Version.
4. Southwest Agroforestry Action Network (n.d.) About SWAAN. https://swaan-site.org/about-1