Mast-Producing Trees in Agroforestry Systems

Mast-Producing Trees in Agroforestry Systems

Agroforestry is the combination of trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock to produce more a diverse, productive, and profitable farm.

Long practiced in the tropics, agroforestry is gaining increasing attention in temperate regions due to its many benefits.

Some of the basic techniques of agroforestry include:

  • Alley cropping is a system of planting annual or perennial crops in strips between rows of trees or shrubs. The woody perennials help prevent erosion, improve moisture retention in soil, and diversify income streams through production of wood, fruit, nuts, or other tree products.
  • Silvopasture combines trees or shrubs with livestock to diversify income and provide forage and/or shelter for the animals.
  • Windbreaks and hedgerows are typically used to protect more valuable crops and livestock from strong winds and other inclement weather, but they can also be designed to provide habitat for wildlife such as game birds and beneficial insects (farmscaping), or to produce crops of their own.
  • Riparian buffers are dense plantings of trees and shrubs planted along streams and other waterways to improve water quality by reducing erosion and agricultural runoff. In addition to their ecological benefits, riparian buffers are commonly managed to provide wildlife habitat and/or produce timber, firewood, fruits, nuts, and other tree crops.
  • Forest farming is the production of timber and non-timber forest products in a naturalistic forest setting. It is different from wildcrafting and other opportunistic methods of harvesting forest products because the forest is managed. Examples of forest products produced by forest farming include timber, firewood, fruits, nuts, mushrooms, greenery for floral arrangements, medicinal plants such as ginseng, maple syrup, and more. Small scale and non-commercial forest farming is often known as edible forest gardening.

Mast-producing trees and shrubs make excellent additions to any agroforestry system because they are so multifunctional. Many forms of hard and soft mast are edible for humans and can be harvested and sold raw or processed. Many mast producing trees and shrubs produce superior timber or firewood, and all are exceptional wildlife plants that can be used to provide an additional source of supplemental income through hunting rights, birdwatching tours, taxidermy projects, and more. Some domestic livestock species also relish mast, while the flowers produced by some soft mast producing species are important nectar sources for bees and other beneficial insects.

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