USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework Provides Roadmap to Sustainable Agriculture
Agroforestry is the intentional combining of trees and shrubs into crop and animal production systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits. There is a significant opportunity to expand the application of agroforestry in the United States to support USDA's highest priorities, including rural prosperity, preservation of forests and working lands, sustainable agricultural production, global food security, and safe and nutritious foods for all Americans. Five categories of agroforestry practices are recognized in the United States: alley cropping that integrates annual crops with high-value trees and shrubs; forest farming where food, herbal (botanicals), and decorative products are grown under the protection of a managed forest canopy; riparian forest buffers along waterways; silvopasture systems with trees, livestock, and forages growing together; and field, farmstead, and livestock windbreaks. These five practices can be designed to accommodate other purposes such as odor mitigation, improving pollinator habitat, trapping snow, or producing biomass feedstock.
Awareness of agroforestry, including the science and practice, and benefits provided to landowners and communities certainly got a boost when USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan unveiled the USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework, Fiscal Year 2011-2016 on June 6, 2011, at the 12th North American Agroforestry Conference in Athens, Georgia. The new plan will help USDA focus its efforts on developing the highest priority science and tools while expanding its educational, training, and partnership activities so that America's farmers, ranchers and woodland owners have the greatest opportunity to consider agroforestry for their operations. The Framework is built around three simple goals: adoption - increase the use of agroforestry by landowners and communities; science - advance the understanding of and tools for applying agroforestry; and integration - incorporate agroforestry into an all-lands approach to conservation and economic development.
Forest Service Research & Development led the Interagency Agroforestry Team (IAT), which developed the Framework with input provided by a diverse group of stakeholders (representing landowner and conservation organizations, Tribes, universities/extension, State agencies, regional councils, and other USDA/Federal agencies) at the Agroforestry Roundtable Workshop, May 25-26, 2010, in Washington DC. The IAT includes representatives from five USDA agencies (Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Agricultural Research Service; National Institute of Food and Agriculture; and Farm Service Agency) and two key partners (National Association of State Foresters and National Association of Conservation Districts).
By late 2011, Forest Service Research & Development expects to establish an Agroforestry Executive Steering Committee to guide implementation of the Framework. The Committee will include representatives from the five IAT agencies as well as two other USDA agencies, the Agricultural Marketing Service and Rural Development. The Framework will guide agroforestry activities throughout USDA, including the USDA National Agroforestry Center (NAC), which has a mission to accelerate the application of agroforestry through a national network of partners. The NAC is a unique partnership between two arms of the Forest Service, Research & Development and State & Private Forestry, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Center conducts research, develops tools and coordinates training aimed at its key customers, the natural resource professionals who work directly with farmers, ranchers, woodland owners, Tribes, and communities.
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