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SiltWEST BRANCH, Iowa – As Iowa farmers consider ways to create more stable incomes, they could consider diversifying their operations with an approach popularized by a Canadian forestry expert, Jonathan Hendricks, agroforestry specialist with the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, said today.


“A look at the history of agriculture tells us that the concept has been around for centuries, but modern agroforestry was the brainchild of John Bene, who recognized and promoted the role of trees in agricultural production. Simply put, it involves growing crops purposefully along with trees or other woody plants. It can also involve raising livestock along with trees,” Hendricks said. “Both approaches include deriving income from the trees, such as nut or fruit trees or trees that are harvested for lumber.”


The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is a statewide nonprofit that works with landowners to permanently dedicate their land to table-food production and market farming. Hendricks, who recently joined its staff, helps land owners create long-range conservation plans or convert existing short-term plans into longer-action plans. His work is supported in part by an Iowa Conservation Innovation Grant and in partnership with the Savanna Institute. 


“Agroforestry delivers short-term and long-term benefits. The trees reduce soil erosion and the host plants for insects that feed on crops while improving nutrient recycling and sustaining the water table,” Hendricks said. “In a livestock operation, those trees provide shade and shelter for animals. And, over time, they generate income and provide a new revenue source for the farm operation.”


SILT executive director Suzan Erem said agroforestry techniques are also “one of the top solutions to combating climate change.”


“Planting trees with the vision and intention of protecting the land and growing food is an idea for those who operate on a long-term horizon and want to leave a strong foundation for future generations. That describes Iowa farmers to a T,” Erem said. “We’re thrilled to have Jonathan with us now to help farmers and landowners across the state develop effective, long-term plans to create the kind of legacy that will make the future generations proud.”


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