Published 28.02.2023

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Life and happy insects at Nyborggaard

In a field in the middle of Denmark, long, wide rows of beautiful trees and bushes have been planted with plenty of space in between to stretch their branches. They are part of the agroforestry system at the organic farm Nyborggaard, whose main production is protein and oil crops including flax and hemp.

Nyborggaard's owners, Søren and Vibeke Jensen, are delighted that agroforestry has been integrated into their farmland and look forward to following the growth of trees, bushes and hopefully biodiversity for many years to come.

Plenty of foraging opportunities

"We established agroforestry at Nyborggaard in the spring of 2022", says Søren Jensen. "We actually planned to establish in autumn 2021, but the weather was not on our side, and we postponed the establishment until the following spring. Now we have established four plots with rows of fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes, interspersed by lone oak trees. We have also established biodiversity hotspots where for instance sea buckthorn, blackthorn, alder buckthorn and black elder have been planted. All of these will provide plenty of foraging opportunities for us, for insects, and for small animals within the near future”.

Not only humans are allowed to enjoy the fruits of the newly established agroforestry at Nyborggaard. The agroforestry system is expected to provide food and habitat for a great diversity of life. In the field, insects were counted by a research team in late summer 2021, before the agroforestry system was established. Later in the process, the team will return to record the development in biodiversity.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have collected data in existing shelterbelts at Nyborggaard to investigate the effects of trees in the cultivation area. The researchers took soil samples and continuously investigate nitrogen leaching at different distances from the trees using buried suction cells. The biomass and grain yields are also recorded at different distances from the trees.

"We have not observed major changes in biodiversity yet", says Søren Jensen. "The focus has been on making sure the trees and bushes thrive. So far, we have removed grass and weeds under the trees, but in the spring, we will sow slow-growing grass and a flower mix. We are convinced that we will see more insects and thus also more birds and small animals in and around the agroforestry systems in the future.”

Planning and establishment of the agroforestry system: challenges and experiences

The agroforestry at Nyborggaard was established with 2,570 trees and bushes divided into four plantations, each 16 meters wide with 4 rows of plants. Between each plantation, 48-meter distance allows for crop production to continue in the field. In the plantations, apples, redcurrants, blackcurrants, cider apples, aro-nia and hazel trees have been planted as well as a biodiversity mix at the end of the rows. The agroforestry system was designed taking several practicalities into consideration.

"In 2019, we invested in an eight-metre Cameleon seeder and row cleaner as well as a GPS for the tractor", says Søren Jensen.

"Furthermore, a 24-metre hose boom is used for slurry distribution, which suits the sowing width of eight meters very well. We have not yet gained much experience in no-till cultivation and do not have suitable machines. We therefore still plan to till the area where the agroforestry system has been established and toned to keep a certain distance between the fruit and berry trees.

Based on those considerations, we chose to design the agroforestry system with 48 meters between trees/bushes. This ensures sufficient space for a reasonable production setup for cultivating clover grass as well as flax, hemp, legumes, and cereals crops. At the same time, the system provides enough space for a sowing and row crop cultivator machines of three, four, six and eight metres, so that in the event of a change in machinery, we will still have a rational production system”.

"We settled on a distance of 16 meters based on the consideration that the subsidy for planting fruit and berry trees and bushes could be obtained, since the planted plots would then amount to 0.3 ha (the minimum size for individual fields in Denmark). At the same time, we were able to establish a reasonable distance between trees and bushes of four metres”.

In the overall design, four parcels could thus be established with the same distance in between.

The planning phase was a significant part of the establishment process, and the goal was that the establishment should not change the well-functioning crop rotation and work procedures of the farm but contribute positively. An important point in the planning phase was also to navigate in the rules for receiving subsidies.

"Since agroforestry is still such a new concept in Denmark, it has sometimes given rise to frustrations that the rules for obtaining subsidies were unclear, and that we therefore did not always know which subsidies we could apply for", says Søren Jensen.

"Hopefully, it will become much more transparent in the coming years as agroforestry becomes more widespread".

Future plans and the market for products from agroforestry

In the coming years, there will be a focus on caring for the trees and bushes in the agroforestry system at Nyborggaard, as well as establishing ground cover between the rows. These will include plants such as different herbs and wild strawberries, which can also be eaten.

"The agroforestry system has, thus far, not given us extra work, and we expect that we will be able to carry out the tasks required to maintain it in between the existing tasks on the farm. We expect to prune in the winter and to acquire help for harvesting fruit, berries and nuts. Perhaps the local students would like to help and earn money for a school trip?”.

Likewise - perhaps during the long winter evenings - we need to consider how best to utilize the fruits, ber-ries and nuts that will eventually be harvested from the agroforestry system.

Nyborggaard already sells products from the farm in its own farm shop as well as to the hotel chain Skarrildhus Sinatur Hotel and Conference and has good experiences to draw from. Future dreams include starting up a production of cider, juice, jam etc., and the expectation is that the consumersare ready for these sorts of products.

"People are always very interested when we tell them about our agroforestry system and the products, we will be able to harvest from it. It is very motivating!” says Søren Jensen.

Agroforestry - a sustainable agricultural system in plant breeding and milk production

Nyborggaard participates in the project Agroforestry - a sustainable agricultural system in plant breeding and milk production (ROBUST)