Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Agroforestry with Kellogg's

Agroforestry Oats and Fruit Trees
My introduction to Agroforestry was a great experience and one that has opened up my eyes to viewing farmland in a very different way.  As part of the Kellogg’s origins group (link) we were very lucky to be given a tour of the Agroforestry enterprise at Blue Bell farms, by Steven Briggs.  Steven farms as an organic farming tenant growing wheat, oats, and some vegetables on some very good soil near Peterborough.
The 125 acres of agroforestry is laid out across six fields in 3m bands of fruit trees separated by 24m of cropped land.  The trees are on shortish, root stocks so the fruit can be picked, and the fruit trees pruned by hand and so that the roots don't get deep enough to interfere with the land drains.
Agroforestry Fruit Trees
The system looks at the land in a 3D way.  The trees are able to put roots down below the crop root zone to capture nutrients and moisture lower down in the soil profile. Most arable crops root between 1-2m whereas the trees go down to 10m so there's little competition for these plant essentials.  The tree divisions increase the crop edge effect and the leaf mulch falls onto the cropland, returning nutrients as they decompose.  The trees also act as a wind-break; for every 1’ of tree height you get a 10’ wind reduction effect, very important in the flat fen lands.  This reduction in wind also reduces the notorious ‘fen blow’ of topsoil across the fields and enables more spray days.  Spray days on an organic farm you ask?  Steven's soil is short of manganese so regular applications are applied to supplement the soils deficiency to the growing crops.

Ploughing Overwintered Stubble
The strips that the trees are planted on can be planted with pollen and nectar so that in the short term will provide brilliant insect habitat.  Overtime these will turn into brilliant beetle banks providing habitat and food for beneficial insects helping control pests.  The system is run with a 6m Controlled Traffic Farming layout to keep machinery wheelings running in the same place, except where the overwintered stubbles are ploughed.

So are there any down sides?  To be honest there we’re too many. Yes it ties up the land for a long period of time as you need to write down the cost of the trees, so OK if you own the land but difficult if you are a tenant and a 3 year FBT makes this impossible.  There is a large capital cost, even planning at 120 trees/Ha.  Over time the yield from the crops reduce as the yield from the trees take over but if you have a market for the fruit then the output is significant.  It makes a lot of sense.

Everyone who visited was really impressed with the system and it certainly made everyone think a little more about some of these techniques could be employed on their own farms.