The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry is part of a $64-million, 5-year grant led by The Nature Conservancy for Expanding Agroforestry Production & Markets for Producer Profitability and Climate Stabilization, announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week. The project aims to advance agroforestry in 38 states across the eastern United States and Hawaii, and is funded by the USDA through the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative.
“Those of us studying agroforestry have always known that it has great potential as a climate-smart solution, but it has not received the level of funding that would encourage widespread adoption,” said Center for Agroforestry Director Sarah Lovell, pictured left. “With this project, landowners will be able to access support for establishing tree crops, silvopasture, windbreaks and other practices that will diversify the landscape and provide a wide range of environmental benefits.”
Lovell, who is also the H.E. Garrett Endowed Chair and a professor in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ School of Natural Resources, said the funding for the Center for Agroforestry as part of the grant will total $2.32 million.
Despite the benefits, agroforestry currently represents less than 1% of U.S. agriculture. Through regionalized technical assistance and farmer outreach efforts, this project will transform 30,000 acres into agroforestry systems over the next five years, thus building a foundation for scaling agroforestry nationally. Within 10 years, the model for this project could facilitate the adoption of climate-smart agroforestry practices such as alley cropping, silvopasture and windbreaks on 10% of U.S. farmland.
Because agroforestry sequesters 2 to 5 tons of carbon per acre per year, the level of adoption expected from this project would generate carbon sequestration equivalent to 1-2.5% of 2020 U.S. emissions from all sources, according to Joe Fargione, science director for The Nature Conservancy’s North America Region. In the longer term, over approximately 20 years, the project could catalyze more than 80 million acres of high-density agroforestry, mitigating 3% to 6% of the country’s 2020 emissions.
“Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, and farmers are on the frontlines,” said Fargione. “Putting more trees in agricultural landscapes is a win for farmers and a win for nature. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions by storing more carbon in the soil, and it helps farmers’ bottom line by creating an expanded revenue stream.”
To increase access to capital, this innovative project will provide $40 million in direct incentive payments to producers for tree planting, creating a national network of demonstration farms that will be used for education and outreach. The project will also produce new financial mechanisms and business models, such as leasing tree-planting rights to investors, which project partners expect will attract hundreds of millions of dollars of private and institutional investment in the next decade or two.
“The Center for Agroforestry is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with The Nature Conservancy, Propagate and so many other outstanding partners committed to improving agriculture through the integration of intentional tree-based plantings,” Lovell said. “We have expertise on species and systems that are well-adapted to their regions and offer additional income streams from nuts, berries, timber and other products. This funding will help to fill in the gaps between research, implementation and commercialization, which will create conditions for long-term success.”
By combining the necessary incentives, outreach and education through a distribution network of the leading NGOs, businesses and researchers in the agroforestry space, project partners will increase capital investments in tree planting, thus increasing the supply of agroforestry commodities. Climate-smart commodities from agroforestry systems include nuts, fruits, timber and products grown amongst the trees like annual and perennial crops and livestock such as beef and chicken.
“The project is designed to create a longer lasting and broader impact that extends beyond the duration of this grant and to producers not directly enrolled in our program,” said Fargione.
The Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri, established in 1998, is a preeminent global center contributing to the science and practice underlying agroforestry, which combines trees and shrubs with crops or livestock.
In addition to the MU Center for Agroforestry, partners in the Expanding Agroforestry Production & Markets for Producer Profitability and Climate Stabilization project include Propagate, Savanna Institute, Virginia Tech University, Hawaiʻi ‘Ulu Cooperative, Tuskegee University, Cargill, Applegate, Danone, General Mills, Simple Mills, Walnut Level Capital, Live Oak Bank, Agroforestry Partners, Handsome Brook Farms, Epic Institute, Appalachian Sustainable Development, New York Tree Crops Alliance, Trees for Graziers, Yard Stick PBC, University of Vermont, Climate Finance Solutions, Association of Temperate Agroforestry, and the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa.