World experts address current challenges of agroforestry at MENDELU

28. 5. 2024
This week, experts from all over the world are meeting at Mendel University in Brno to discuss agroforestry - growing trees together with crop production or livestock breeding. The EURAF 2024 conference deals with both research and practice and is being held in the Czech Republic for the first time. Agroforestry professionals are addressing both the opportunities and challenges of applying trees to agriculture. They discuss in thematic sessions, and participants gain new experiences and impulses in workshops on how agroforestry can diversify production, improve soil health and biodiversity in Europe.

Despite the interest of farmers and politicians, the adoption of agroforestry is currently challenging and agroforesters are facing a number of challenges. “The current challenge in Europe is frameworks that allow multifunctional land use, better economic budgets and examples for agroforestry, or better sharing of knowledge between farmers and foresters,” outlined AbacusAgri director Stephen Briggs, a UK farmer who is also head of technical development at Innovation for Agriculture. “The challenge is to make agroforestry mainstream, to make money from trees in the short term, to increase social recognition of agroforestry farmers and to brand agroforestry products to achieve better prices,” added Christian Dupraz, research director at the French National Institute for Agronomic and Environmental Research and founding president of the International Union for Agroforestry.

Both foreign speakers have been involved in agroforestry for several decades. In that time, it has moved from the niche to more mainstream and is now being adopted into many land use policies in a wide number of countries. “Agroforestry is now more balanced between trees around plots and trees inside plots. The density of trees in plots has been decreasing with time. Now, usual schemes include only 50 trees per hectare, while it was around 100 to 200 trees 30 years ago. Because of the need for short term returns fruit trees are more and more included in agroforestry schemes, instead timber trees. And carbon sequestration is now a key driver for agroforestry adoption, whereas in the past it was not the case,” listed Dupraz, who started agroforestry at its inception in 1985. According to both, agroforestry is one of many solutions to climate change which will be well suited to many farms but perhaps not all. Innovations include, for example, the use of agrovoltaics, which means using agroforestry principles and applying them to energy.

In both France and the UK, agroforestry is currently developing strongly. “Brexit has allowed the UK to adapt and accelerate land use policies, and agroforestry is now being built into domestic Agricultural and forestry policies which support establishment and management,” Briggs described. In France, the government has provided €110 million for agroforestry development this year. “In Paris, the best agroforesters are awarded prizes at the Salon de l’Agriculture. Almost all agricultural high schools now include agroforestry plots and courses. But unfortunately, a large number of agroforestry systems are still poorly designed, with lots of trees that don’t survive. This should be avoided. Agroforestry is not simply planting trees,” Dupraz pointed out.

Agroforestry is gaining momentum in the Czech Republic as well. Mendel University also has agroforestry areas on both enterprises – the University Forest Enterprise Masaryk Forest in Křtiny (UFE) and the University Agriculture Enterprise in Žabčice (UAE). “Our university enterprises provide an ideal place where educational activities meet with semi-operational and applied research in the conditions of a real business entity in the field of agricultural or forestry activities. In Žabčice, this is the so-called silvo-arable system established in 2019. The tree species are poplar and walnut, while wheat, poppy or maize are used as agricultural crops. There is also a silvo-pasture system on the UFE, plus the concept of an edible forest and a pasture forest. Here, drought-resistant tree species are used, which, in addition to timber, also provide edible fruits or other benefits in the landscape,” described Martin Klimánek from the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology at MENDELU.

Of course, we incorporate examples of these systems into teaching in a number of study programmes, whether it be field trips or thesis solutions. “We would like to continue to pursue this management concept, particularly in terms of research and education, and establish additional plots that vary in tree species and plot design – for example, wider rows on agricultural land. We intend to test other species of trees in the forest, specifically, depending on the suitability of the trees for the location, we are testing bark-cancer resistant chestnut tree, as well as service (sorb) tree and others,” Klimánek explained.

The European Agroforestry Conference takes place in Brno from 27 to 31 May 2024, with speakers not only from Europe, but also from America and Australia. The event is organised by the Czech Society for Agroforestry as a branch of the European Agroforestry Federation (EURAF) in cooperation with Mendel University in Brno, the South Moravian Region and the Statutory City of Brno.

Contact for further information: doc. Ing. Martin Klimánek, Ph.D.,, +420 777 101 224, Department of Forest Management and Applied Geoinformatics LDF MENDELU; Ing. Antonín Martiník, Ph.D.,, +420 730 165 622, Department of Forest Establishment and Cultivation LDF MENDELU

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