USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has unveiled a plan that will help farmers, ranchers and woodland owners enhance productivity, profitability and environmental stewardship by using the practice of agroforestry.

Agroforestry intentionally combines agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems that take advantage of the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock. 

Merrigan unveiled the USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework during the North American Agroforestry Conference, in Athens, Ga. The framework is the USDA guide to advance agroforestry knowledge, practices and assistance that lays the roadmap to influence the long-term health and sustainability of all lands for future generations.

“Agroforestry does not sacrifice farmland for forests or forests for farmland,” Merrigan said. “Rather, agroforestry is the marriage of disciplines that, in the end, will protect our natural resources, benefit our communities and allow for the development of other sources of income for farmers, ranchers and woodland owners. Agroforestry can enhance values for any landowner.”

Agroforestry practices may appear like a living patchwork quilt across entire watersheds. For instance, managed forest canopies in a woodland area can protect a range of crops grown for food, landscaping, and medicinal use — plants such as shiitake mushrooms, ramps, ginseng, goldenseal, curly willow and Galax.

Likewise, farmers and ranchers who plant pine trees on land used for livestock and forage production can add to their profits by selling pine straw and high-value saw logs.