The aims of these meetings were to provide RAIN Members the opportunity to meet each other at a working agroforestry system, to provide a forum for new entrants, farmers, advisors to see and hear presentations from experienced practitioners, to summarise the survey results on barriers to uptake, innovative practices and existing solutions for the gaps identified during the first workshop and subsequent survey, and to allow discussion to inform the design and venue of the next workshops.
Each workshop followed a similar format – after brief introductions setting the aim of the day, the groups headed out onto the farms to visit the agroforestry systems. Back in the meeting rooms, other agroforestry practitioners shared their journeys and experiences with the group. Afternoon discussion groups compared each other’s journey towards agroforestry, identified obstacles, innovations and decided upon the content for our next RAIN #3 meetings so we can deliver to member specific requirements.
Trees and Vegetables group, 11th January, Duchy Home Farm, Tetbury, Gloucestershire
Introductions and an opening presentation were given by the farm manager, David Wilson, who set the scene and gave a background to the wider farm context. Fred Bonestroo (head grower) then led the group on the farm walk around his agroforestry system. An organic vegetable rotation is managed between rows of apple trees. During the farm walk participants were able to gain agroforestry knowledge first hand from a working farm. The guided field visit platform of knowledge exchange formed a highlight of the day for many people. Discussions centred on the layout of the tree rows, tree and understorey management, logistics of growing cops in the rows and benefits of having the additional harvest. The group were able to question Fred Bonestroo and David Wilson who kindly provided background to the rationale, the lessons learnt and future plans.
Sally Westaway, innovation broker from AFINET UK (ORC), gave an update on AFINET RAIN activities in Europe, outcomes from previous UK RAIN events. Talks were then given two vegetables growers who have established agroforestry systems on their farms:
- Iain Tolhurst from Tolhurst Organics who has a relatively new agroforestry system planted as part of his field scale organic vegetable rotation
- Martyn Bragg from Shillingford Organics who has a well-established agroforestry system with apple and other fruit trees planted in rows with vegetables cropping in between
Both farmers took questions from the floor throughout their presentations and at the end, questions focussed on logistics of management, species choice, system design and economics. The group of 33 people was then split into smaller groups 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.
Trees and Livestock group, 25th January at The Farm, Longnor, Shropshire
Following introductions, attendees were given an overview presentation from the owner of the farm, Tim Downes who described how he farmed and how his agroforestry system was designed and implemented to compliment his large organic dairy herd. Tim supports his local university and the agroforestry at The Farm, Longnor took advantage of an MSc intern’s dissertation which looked at the benefits of trees for self-feeding cattle. Tim has two silvopastoral trials taking place close to the main dairy, the first looking at the medicinal benefits of broadleaf trees for cows to browse alongside a second trialling the nutritional benefits of white and crack willow. The RAIN group then donned wellies for a farm tour of both systems which were a short walk from the village hall.
During the farm walk participants were able to gain agroforestry knowledge first hand from a working farm. A significant number of the group had not seen “trees in action” and this platform of knowledge exchange formed a highlight of the day for many people. Discussions centred on the layout of the tree rows with two trials; one a mixed trial of native broadleaf species which provided a medicinal trial for organic cattle who through the nature of the organic farming system rely on homeopathy and natural remedies to combat infection and sub-clinical infection. The second trial focused on the nutritional value of white and crack willow self-fed ad-libitum by cattle when passing the trees on-route to and from the dairy. The group were able to question Tim Downes who kindly provided background to the rationale of both systems, the lessons learnt and future plans.
The afternoon kicked off with a short presentation from Peter Aspin which provided an insight into silvopasture for calf rearing alongside a multi-species tree and grazing ally cropping system on permanent grassland. Peter took questions from the floor throughout his presentation which covered species choice and system design. Peter had a wealth of knowledge on the pros and cons of different tree species, tree species historic background and potential for future use. Ian Knight from AFINET UK (Abacus) provided a workshop presentation to outline the AFINET project, and to give an update on AFINET RAIN activities in Europe and outcomes from previous UK RAIN events. To round up the event, the group was divided into smaller groups 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.
Trees and Arable group, 15th February, Whitehall Farm, Farcet, Cambridgeshire
Following introductions to the workshop, attendees were given an overview presentation from the owner of the farm and UK AFINET partner, Stephen Briggs who described his farm and 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 RAIN group then donned wellies and braved the winter winds for a tour around the agroforestry system. During the farm walk participants were able to gain agroforestry knowledge first hand from a working farm, the tour was interactive with many questions fired at Stephen as we walked round the field. 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 would 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. Stuart Holm from the Woodland Trust then spoke about how they had supported David Rose a farmer in Leicestershire to plant an innovative edible woodland and how they had gone about planning and implementing this system. He also spoke about how the Woodland Trust could offer support and advice to farmers wishing to plant their own agroforestry systems.
The closing session in all workshops looked at the feedback taken from each working group during discussions, the facilitators of each of the smaller groups were asked to feed back to wider group, notes of the key discussion points were collected on the outcome of which communicated by each Group Facilitator. These were broken down into key areas which IB’s could focus and have as priorities for future events. A popular suggestion was that the next three meetings follow the process of establishing a new agroforestry i.e:
- system design
Other suggestions included more information about what didn’t work and how to effectively learn lessons from others. It was also suggested that it would be good to have an event at a farm where they are planting or have recently planted an agroforestry system. Effective and innovative marketing of AF products and ensuring links with end users was also discussed.
The third round of UK RAIN meetings will take place during the summer.
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