Trees and Arable group, 15th February 2018, Whitehall Farm, Farcet, Cambridgeshire
The farm owner and UK AFINET partner, Stephen Briggs welcomed the group to his farm and described how his agroforestry system was designed and implemented to compliment his organic arable rotation. Stephen who initially trained as a soils scientist and has completed a Nuffield Scholarship on temperate agroforestry has planted apple trees as an alley cropping system over half of his farm. His initial motivation for planting trees was to help prevent soil erosion caused by winds on their Fenland soils. Research into the biodiversity benefits of the trees has also been carried out on the farm and demonstrated the benefits of the trees and their flower rich understorey to the farm’s livestock (the pollinators). The group then braved the winter winds for a tour around the agroforestry system. Discussions centred on the layout of the tree rows, tree and understorey management. Variety choice and planting design were also covered along with management of the arable crop rows. Stephen is a tenant farmer and there was interest in how he convinced his landlord that planting trees was a good idea and how this influenced his species and system choice, if he had owned the land Stephen says he may have planted timber and nut trees in addition to apples. Stephen explained how he was effectively increasing his land area by cropping vertically and farming in 3D. Issues that were flagged up included the need to use good quality tree stakes and also the damage that roosting pigeons can do to young trees – Stephen added in tall bamboo canes for the birds to sit on to prevent this happening.
Following the introduction to AFINET, Stephen Parsley, an arable farmer with a diverse agroforestry system on his farm in Cambridgeshire gave a short presentation on his system, the design, management and plans for the future (Link to presentation) . Stuart Holm from the Woodland Trust then spoke about how they had supported Nottinghamshire farmer David Rose to plant an innovative edible woodland and how they had gone about planning and implementing this system (Link to presentation). He also spoke about how the Woodland Trust could offer support and advice to farmers wishing to plant their own agroforestry systems. The day finished with an interactive workshop asking participants to share their experiences, to identify their priorities for the group for future events as well as identify the most important tools we can provide to encourage agroforestry innovation.