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AMES, IOWA, March 25, 2013: Midwest Group Helps Agroforestry Efforts Take Root

More than trees are lost when woodlots and fencelines disappear from rural landscapes.

When trees and woody plantings are removed, a landscape has a lot less to offer in the form of habitat and cover for birds, bats, pollinators and wildlife, water filtration potential and maybe most importantly, opportunities for the people who own the land.

A group of researchers, agency representatives, educators, farmers and nonprofit consultants from five Midwest states met recently to discuss the opportunities related to agroforestry. All are part of the three-year-old Mid-American Agroforestry Working Group, also known as MAAWG. The theme of the March 19-20 meeting was “From Seedling to Sapling: Advancing Agroforestry into Working Landscapes.”

Agroforestry is the intentional integration of forestry and agricultural practices to develop sustainable land-use systems that create economic opportunities for farmers. Agroforestry practices include planting windbreaks and buffers, grazing livestock in woodlands (called silvopasture), growing trees and nuts alternatively with row crops (called alley cropping), and cultivating specialty crops such as mushrooms in forest understory or producing maple syrup..

“I think we’re only beginning to tap into the many opportunities related to agroforestry, especially among women landowners, beginning farmers, people on acreages, and farmers with pockets of land less suitable for row crops,” said Jeri Neal, who coordinates MAAWG’s efforts through the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The Leopold Center hosted the March meeting with support from the National Agroforestry Center located in Nebraska.

MAAWG member Tom Wahl owns Red Fern Farm in southeast Iowa and agreed that agroforestry information is needed, especially among landowners.  “We need to be more aggressive in helping landowners see that they have options to produce a wide variety of woody crops that can compete with the financial returns from commodities like corn and soybeans,” he said.

The opportunities for woody perennials to meet landowners’ objectives for income and other goals, while also providing environmental benefits, were emphasized by other presenters, including Jeff Jensen, a Trees Forever outreach specialist and hazelnut grower, and Diomy Zamora, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator who first worked in agroforestry in the Philippines.

Currently, MAAWG efforts are focused in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

The second day of the meeting was devoted to planning an Agroforestry Training Academy Workshop to be held in Columbia, Missouri, in August. Mike Gold, with the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, leads planning for the 2013 agroforestry train-the-trainer week-long workshop, the first of two such events over two years. The training events are being funded primarily by a grant from the North-Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with assistance from the Mid-American Agroforestry Working Group.

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