The importance of planning your end crop when considering agroforestry was highlighted by the Woodland Trust.

Speaking at the Organic Producers’ Conference in Birmingham, woodland creation adviser Stuart Holm stressed that while agroforestry – a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland – is growing in popularity, many landowners do not have a clear goal.

He said: “Farmers and smallholders are coming to us with a desire to plant trees but they don’t always know what they want out of it. We want them to think carefully about what they want to plant and why, the longevity of having trees and how soon they want to see the benefit.

“Do they want to use their trees as browsing for their livestock, for shelter, as an edible crop they can sell on, either to a producer or directly to the public, or a source of timber or woodfuel?

“There are so many ways to incorporate agroforestry, it’s vital to make sure landowners have a clear focus on how it can work best for them.”

Other issues to consider include making sure there’s good access to the field and the trees themselves for both harvesting and maintenance, and whether the site is in the right condition for planting. A field that’s too wet or too dry at certain times of the year will influence what can be planted.

The presence of pollinators will also be a factor as someone planting fruit trees won’t get as good a crop as they could if, for example, there’s a lack of bees.

Someone who has made agroforestry work for his business is organic farmer Stephen Briggs (pictured), who farms 254 acres at Whitehall Farm, Cambridgeshire.

He diversified into alley cropping – planting rows of fruit trees between his arable crop.

He said; “Since integrating apple trees in rows within my arable rotation of wheat, barley, clover and vegetables, my farm has established the largest agroforestry system in the UK. Eight per cent of the land area has a tree crop on it with 92% of land remaining in arable production. The three-dimensional agroforestry combination provides an annual and longer term economic return from both components by utilising more space above and below ground, better captures resources such as sunlight, nutrients and water, protects soil and enhances biodiversity. What’s not to like?”

But you don’t have to have a large farm to embrace agroforestry.

Stuart said: “Agroforestry is bespoke. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another which is why the Woodland Trust will visit anybody who is interested to advise how to make the most of their land. For example, if an arable farmer wanted to plant a fruit crop with the intention of selling it for juicing, we’d perhaps recommend late yielding varieties that could be harvested after the arable crops. It’s all about finding the best fit.

“There’s a lot of work involved. It’s not a quick fix but it’s a strong fix and those we plant with say it’s well worth the effort because of the positive impact it has had on their business and the environment.”

Together with the Soil Association and Royal Forestry Society, the Woodland Trust is staging an agroforestry conference at Cranfield University on June 22 where delegates can discover the many benefits of planting trees on farms and smallholdings. The conference will showcase some of the UK’s leading agroforestry systems and look at the main steps and questions faced in getting them off the ground.

National and international speakers are included in the line-up, along with those currently practicing agroforestry techniques, and Charlotte Smith of BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today will chair the sessions

Tickets are available at