From Forest Carbon’s Project Manager, Eck Gordon
Forest Carbon has been deeply involved not only in the development of the Woodland Carbon Code but also in the validation and verification of more than 250 woodlands through the code since its inception in 2011.
We have had the pleasure of assisting land owners and tenants in the creation of a multitude of woodland types, from native riparian woodlands planted to protect and enhance waterways to more commercial woodlands used to create opportunities on otherwise unproductive land, and everything in between.
Of course, not all land managers have the space or inclination to create woodlands in the traditional sense, with fairly dense spacings between trees effectively removing land from agricultural production, at the very least during establishment and in some cases permanently.
This is where agroforestry might be of interest, as it offers the chance to integrate trees into farm landscapes whilst allowing farming to carry on and in some cases enhance production.
Future-proofing a farm through tree planting
A couple of years ago I spent 7 months working as the livestock manager of a beef and sheep unit in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. The landowner had a great interest in planting trees and after filling his gullies and inaccessible areas of the farm, he was keen to integrate tree cover onto some of his more productive lands too.
Rather than viewing this as a threat to his farming enterprise, it was viewed as future-proofing. Summers can be very hot and dry in Hawkes Bay, and winters commonly see extreme weather events like typhoons. Agroforestry planting amongst his pastures provided summer shade for livestock, reducing heat stress during the middle of the day. It also improved the hydrological function of his soils, allowing water to infiltrate into the soil structure more quickly, reducing the risk of flooding. Additionally – as he was planting nut and fruit trees – another saleable product was added to the farm’s output, further diversifying his business.
I won’t pretend the process of establishing trees on farmland was simple. Livestock had to be kept away from the saplings during their early years, which incurred costs in the form of extra fencing and labour to build and maintain it.
However, as the trees continue to grow the benefits of taking this action will become more apparent; from making the farm more resilient to extreme weather, to fewer livestock losses, to providing habitat for a greater variety of birds and insects which should lead to enhanced farm productivity.
Agroforestry: advantages and challenges for British farmers
Whilst Britain has a different climate from the East Coast of New Zealand, the advantages that a well-designed agroforestry scheme could offer farmers are similar to those which were seen in Hawkes Bay. In terms of livestock, shelter offers tremendous benefits to the health and well-being of animals, and this will only become more prevalent as we face greater extremes in weather patterns.
Farmers will face similar challenges, too. For example, rows of trees on arable land make manoeuvring machinery more complicated. Looming beyond the practicalities is funding; a key barrier for farmers is that the establishment of these sorts of schemes can be expensive, even with emerging grants from the government.
This is where we see an agroforestry code playing a role in incentivising this type of woodland creation. Incentivisation would come in the form of Verified Carbon Units similar to the Woodland Carbon Code. Farmers could either sell these to cover the upfront and ongoing costs of their project or keep them to decarbonise the products they are supplying to customers in their supply chain.
Key benefits of agroforestry for farmers
Integrating trees and shrubs into farming systems can:
Enhance farm productivity
Improve soil health
Boost livestock welfare
Manage water flow
Contribute to climate change mitigation
Source: Woodland Trust
How far off is a British Agroforestry Carbon Code
The Soil Association is currently developing an Agroforestry Carbon Code but it is unclear when this will be released and what a typical project design would look like. Some land managers – bought into the benefits of this practice – are pushing on with agroforestry plantings anyway. We’ve heard that the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) has provided some assistance to landowners in the South.
Having seen agroforestry in action, I encourage farmers to consider it for all of its future-proofing benefits. Forest Carbon watches on expectantly as the code progresses, eager to see farmers supported to take on these kinds of projects. With our extensive experience of advising, validating and verifying woodland projects since 2006, we feel we are well placed to advise landowners through an Agroforestry Carbon Code as and when it emerges.
Please get in touch if you want to discuss this further or enquire about our work with the Woodland Carbon Code and emerging sponsorship opportunities.