Agroforestry: Southern Region Resources on Sustainable Woodland Management and Land Use Conservation

By convention, agriculture, horticulture, and forestry are treated as isolated land uses, each requiring physical separation and independent production techniques. However, distinct boundaries between these land uses often blur. Trees and agriculture frequently occur together in farm environments, either where single trees grow in agricultural fields and pastures, or where stands of trees adjoin fields and pastures.

Agroforestry -- a sustainable land-use system that involves the intentional integration and management of trees, crops, and/or livestock in a single management unit -- takes advantage of the interfaces between trees and agricultural activities. If properly managed, these interactions can provide net benefits to the farm enterprise and the agroecosystem. As an association of plant and/or animal communities, agroforestry systems are deliberately designed to optimize use of spatial, temporal and physical resources, by maximizing positive interactions and minimizing negative ones between trees, crops and animals. For example, trees in these systems are capable of improving soil nutrient levels, thereby improving overall system productivity. Trees are also capable of capturing and recycling lost soil nutrients and are, thus, a potential moderating factor in groundwater pollution caused by leaching of nitrates. In addition, trees on agricultural lands offer landowners the possibility of producing bioenergy products or accruing carbon credits via the sequestration of stable carbon stock, an added incentive for adopting alley cropping -- a type of agroforestry practice.

Agroforestry can be categorized into five basic types: windbreaks, alley cropping, silvopasture, riparian buffers and forest farming. Within each is a host of options available to landowners and farmers.

Alley cropping involves the planting of timber, fruit or nut trees in single or multiple rows on agricultural lands, with crops or forages cultivated between the rows, or alleyways.

Forest farming is the planting and harvesting of non-timber products, namely medicinal and edible plants.

A riparian buffer is a vegetative zone, mainly shrubs and trees, along a water source, such as a stream, river or watershed that protects the area from degraded water quality and non-point source pollution.

Silvopasture is an agroforestry system that incorporates forage crops and animal production in a woodland, forested, or tree plantation environment.

A windbreak is a process of planting fast-growing trees, shrubs or grasses, mainly to mitigate wind-related agriculture problems.

Agroforestry is growing in popularity with both landowners and farmers interested in sustainable agriculture. By emulating natural ecosystems more closely than standard agriculture, agroforestry techniques enable environmental sustainability and stewardship objectives to be met along with commodity-output objectives. Agroforestry also enables landowners to diversify production activities and outputs from a limited land base, resulting in increased long-range economic security.

Sustainable Agroforestry Practices in the Southeastern United States: Training Handbook


A training handbook developed by Tuskegee University for Extension, mentor farmers and other ag professionals on agroforestry practices in the Southeast.

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Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region. This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



Resources from Other SARE Regions

North Central SARE

Agroforestry Brief Sheet


NCR-SARE has invested more than 50 research and education projects to help achieve sustainability of agroforestry operations.

Training Manual for Applied Agroforestry Practices

Training Manual cover

A training manual designed for natural resources professionals and landowners on agroforestry practices to help landowners diversify products, markets, and farm income, while improving the environment.

Handbook for Agroforestry Planning and Design

Agroforestry handbook cover

A handbook to identify what agroforestry products can grow on your land, which of these products you can sell profitably, and how to develop basic business and marketing strategies.

Are you an ag educator or farmer interested in sharing the Agroforestry Topic Room at an event? Consider using this one-page flyer (PDF).