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How to make farms more climate resilient? The solution is simple: trees

Game Changers: The monoculture farm that only produces one thing is a model that suits food businesses, not farming ones

I will be pulling on wellies to visit forests on farms in west Cork later this month. I’m hoping to get a glimpse of the future look and feel for our forest project in Roscommon. The walks are part of the International Agroforestry conference, held over two days in Bantry starting on November 16th. There is solid evidence from Europe’s oldest agroforestry study showing its potential for productive farming. The study site in Loughall in Co Armagh has produced decades of research thanks in large part to Prof Jim McAdam, who was involved in setting it up and minding it as a resource for the future despite years of indifference from the agricultural mainstream.

Agroforestry’s time has come. Trees can help farmers, livestock and land and create more climate-resilient farming systems. All of these supports feel more urgent as we wade through what looks set to be one of the wettest years on record. Agroforestry lends itself to mixed farming, not putting all the eggs into one basket. The monoculture farm that only produces one thing, whether it’s broccoli or baby formula, is a model that suits food businesses, not farming ones. It’s increasingly not fit for purpose. Commodity food conglomerates thrive while farmers are vulnerable to shocks, whether from a volatile market or an increasingly volatile climate.

The conference will also hear from Kathleen Conroy, lead researcher with the TCD and UCD ForES Project, which is looking at valuing what trees can do, and working out a system to pay farmers to safeguard that value. International agroforestry expert Patrick Worms will explain how agroforestry dominates 40 per cent of the world’s agricultural land. Farmers should be encouraged to add trees to their fields, he argues “and foresters to add agricultural production to their forests”.

Day two will be the field trips to three farms around Skibbereen. On Rossa Gibbons’s farm, he is building a pedigree Shropshire sheep flock on an agroforestry plot, which also incorporates fruit and nut trees. Alan Kingston will walk us through his horticulture, agroforestry and aronia berry farm where he is also rearing Shropshire sheep and a small herd of Kune Kune pigs which fertilise the forest floor, and clear briars without harming the trees, thanks to their shorter snouts. Then we will visit Caherbeg, where Avril and William Allshire planted mixed agroforestry five years ago and are managing a mature spruce plantation. They produce free range pork and have a firewood business.


Learning while walking in wellies, my favourite kind of schooling, will be a big part of the conference. There are still some tickets left. Prices start from €50 for students, see