A cropping system mainly refers to the way a crop is grown, arrangement in the field and frequency of production. Different cropping systems and practices are used in the production of crops depending on location, preference, skill and financial capacity.
Agroforestry is the intentional mixing of trees and shrubs into crop and animal production systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits.
The foundation of agroforestry is putting trees to work in conservation and production systems for farms, forests, ranches, and communities. Agroforestry begins with placing the right plant, in the right place, for the right purpose.
Agroforestry is a unique land management approach that provides opportunities to integrate productivity and profitability with environmental stewardship, resulting in healthy and sustainable agricultural systems that can be passed on to future generations.
Agroforestry technologies, when used appropriately, help attain sustainable agricultural land-use systems in many ways. Specifically, agroforestry technologies:
- Provide protection for valuable topsoil, livestock, crops, and wildlife.
- Increase productivity of agricultural and horticultural crops.
- Reduce inputs of energy and chemicals.
- Increase water use efficiency of plants and animals.
- Improve water quality.
- Diversify local economies.
- Enhance biodiversity and landscape diversity.
- Reconnect agriculture, people, and communities.
Agroforestry technologies ultimately enhance the quality of life for people. Common cropping systems used in agroforestry includes the following:
- Field, farmstead, and livestock windbreaks.
- Riparian forest buffers along waterways.
- Silvopasture systems with trees, livestock, and forages growing together.
- Alley cropping or hedge row cropping– a system where dense hedges of multipurpose (usually leguminous) trees are grown in rows between wider strips of annual crops. The hedges are pruned occasionally to provide mulch and organic matter. The main aim in alley cropping is to improve yields by adding nutrients from the organic matter and nitrogen fixation.
- Contour vegetation strip- This system is mainly employed on slopes where rows of trees are interspaced with wider strips of crops. The main aim in this system is to control erosion.
- Forest farming– where food, herbal (botanicals), and decorative products are grown under the protection of a managed forest canopy.
Disadvantages of Agroforestry
- Needs some skill to carry out
- Trees may harbour pests and diseases
- Trees may compete with crops if not well spaced
There is a significant opportunity to apply agroforestry practices to address challenges such landscape-scale conservation, climate change, clean and abundant water for communities, biomass energy, and sustainable agriculture. Integrated into individual farm operations and watersheds, agroforestry practices can create and enhance certain desirable functions and outcomes essential for sustainability. The effective application of agroforestry requires leadership and teamwork and its partners in both: (1) developing agroforestry science and tools and (2) delivering agroforestry assistance to the owners/managers of working farms, woodlands, ranches, and communities. Both are essential if we are to realize the many benefits of this unique approach to land management.