You are here

What is Woody Agriculture?

Woody Agriculture refers to the intensive production of agricultural staple commodities from highly domesticated woody perennial plants. It differs from agroforestry in that no annual crops are grown, and thus little or no tillage is performed. Permanent stands of the woody crop are established and seeds are harvested annually. Once every 5-10 years the wood is harvested for biomass by coppicing, whereupon the plants regenerate from the roots and resume production of the food crop one year later.

Advantages of a woody agricultural system

The concept has been developed at Badgersett Research Farm during the past 20 years. Data on yields of specific crops indicate commercialization is now possible. No commercial scale Woody Agriculture planting yet exists. This is the next step necessary to make the tremendous environmental advantages of this cropping system available to farmers.

Advantages include:

  • Decreased erosion.

    No tillage following establishment, hence vastly decreased erosion and energy requirements.
  • Increased photosynthetic efficiency.

    Woody plants are intrinsically more effective at capturing light than annual plants, and can capture 3 times more solar energy per year, which can be used by the plant to make seed or wood. This photosynthetic efficiency means agricultural woody plants, if used on a very large scale, could reverse present global increases in CO2, and possibly global warming.
  • Diversification of agriculture.

    The more species that are involved in food production, the more easily the food system can withstand momentary failures of any particular crop due to disease, drought, flood, or natural disasters.
  • Drought resistance & flood tolerance.

    The deep permanent root systems of the crop plants are very insensitive to mild droughts or short term flooding, both of which can cause drastic or total crop losses in annual species.
  • Reduced chemical runoff.

    The deep root system will also much more effectively capture any necessary fertilizers, resulting both in reduced cost to the farmer and greatly reduced (or no) fertilizer runoff.
  • Greatly increased biodiversity of fields

    through the provision of habitat for a variety of animals and other plants.
  • Accessibility to mainstream agriculture.

    From the outset, plants chosen for development have been designed to produce crops for existing markets, using technology that can and will be adopted by mainstream agriculture; this will make the benefits of the system available to the largest number of farmers, greatly increasing potential beneficial impact.

Part 2: The concept of Woody Agriculture

Table of contents