Agroforestry: integrating woody perennials and agriculture

Agroforestry can be defined as ‘the intentional integration of woody crops (trees and shrubs) into crop cultivation and animal production systems, because of the envisaged ecological and economic benefits’. In the Netherlands, there appear to be numerous opportunities for applying agroforestry, such as combining fruit trees & poultry farming, feeding trees in pastures for cows and goats, and food gardening. In collaboration with farmers and other stakeholders, the Louis Bolk Institute is working on agroforestry systems of the future. 

Benefits of trees and shrubs on farms 

Trees and shrubs provide various benefits for humans and animals. In addition to products such as fruits and timber, they also contribute to solving many societal issues. There is carbon sequestration and the provision of a pleasant microclimate that offers protection from wind and sun. Trees and shrubs, furthermore, extract nutrients from deep within the soil, making these available to animals and other plants. The shedded leaves provide nourishment to soil organisms, as well as providing a habitat for useful insects, birds and mammals. Such Woody perennials also are often part of the natural heritage; for many years, they have already been used as a natural barrier, as well as for beautifying the landscape. A greatest benefit of agroforestry is the multifunctional land use. In this way, agroforestry can be a type of nature-inclusive agriculture, as it provides additional space for biodiversity.  


Using integrated systems as a basis 

Thanks to our expertise in sustainable agriculture, which is centred around soil and biodiversity, our work is based on an integrated system. This integrated approach enables us to develop, monitor and study innovative systems, such as agroforestry. For example, we collaborate with farmers and other stakeholders in developing future agroforestry systems. We are also involved in local agroforestry networks, which has led to the development of the guidance on using agroforestry in farming (Handleiding Agroforestry op het Landbouwbedrijf (in Dutch). A number of typical examples are provided on the website of Stichting Agroforestry Nederland.

Further development of agroforestry 

The foundation (Stichting Agroforestry Nederland) was set up by the Louis Bolk Institute and Stichting Duinboeren for the further devlopment of agroforestry. This foundation is part of the European Agroforestry Federation. Via this European federation, knowledge is exchanged amongst researchers and possibilities are presented for the integration of woody perennials into agricultural production systems. In this project, we are studying which combinations of trees, shurbs and livestock could be implemented on farms most effectively. 
Furthermore, we have set up the so-called Masterplan Agroforestry. This plan addresses the opportunities and obstacles for agroforestry in today’s agriculture. We have also provided advice about a possible ‘crop code’(gewascode voor agroforestry) for agroforestry and a national knowledge network. 

In addition, we are developing new concepts and are studying the impact of agroforestry-based production systems on biodiversity and the enviroment.