Trees in fields would help UK hit net-zero

Farms could boost food production and achieve net-zero in the next decade if they planted trees between their crops, scientists from the University of Reading believe.

The UK portion of Reforest, a new Europe-wide programme backed by UK Research and Innovation under the Horizon Europe Guarantee, say the widespread establishment of agroforestry would boost food production, encourage wildlife, and absorb more carbon from the air, storing it in trees and soils.

More than two-thirds of the UK’s land is used for farming. If half of all UK farms adopted agroforestry methods, farmers would achieve net-zero by 2037 on arable farms, and by 2044 for livestock. To counteract the greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming within 40 years, just over a fifth of UK grassland would need to be turned over to agroforestry, meaning around 55,000ha – an area the size of Leeds – would need to be converted each year.

Laurence Smith, a University of Reading lecturer in agricultural business management, who is leading the UK part of the project, said: “Farmers are increasingly under pressure to farm for food, wildlife and carbon, all in the same space and at the same time. This might seem difficult, but we’ve shown that planting trees on farms alongside other crops could be the answer. There is already good evidence showing how agroforestry is helping farmers to fight back against climate change.”

The goal of Reforest is to share best practice to make agroforestry an attractive option for more farmers and landowners across the UK and Europe. It will bring together 14 partners from 10 European countries with multidisciplinary expertise.

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