Agroforestry crop
Annual crops like corn, provide income while long-term crops mature. (Photo credit: USDA National Agroforestry Center / Flikr)

At a farm in Missouri, rows of pecan trees grow between narrow fields of wheat. The towering trees provide nuts that the farmer sells for extra income.

The practice of growing trees alongside annual crops or livestock is called agroforestry, and it can take many forms. Gary Bentrup of the USDA says ranchers may include trees in a cow pasture.

Bentrup: “You’ll be raising livestock underneath, but the trees you have overhead could very well be species you’re raising for timber, for nuts, and so you’re diversifying your income sources.”

But extra cash is not the only reason farmers turn to agroforestry.

USDA's Gary Bentrup says agroforestry also can help manage risk from extreme weather events. @usfs_srs Click To Tweet

Bentrup: “It can help producers manage risk as we have more extreme weather events.”

On livestock farms, trees provide shade that can reduce the stress on cattle during heat waves.

And when trees are planted next to wheat, corn, or other crops, their branches and leaves help shelter the plants from wind and heavy rain. The tree roots prevent erosion and keep soil and fertilizer from running off fields …

Bentrup: “… so that the crop can be a little more productive.”

In other words, adding trees to the mix may help farmers adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

Reporting credit: Daisy Simmons/ChavoBart Digital Media.