Agroforestry can lend itself well to cattle farming systems in a number of ways, director of the Irish agroforestry forum Professor Jim McAdam has said.
In agroforestry systems, trees are combined with crops or animals on the same plot of land.
With particular interest in developing climate-resilient farming systems, Prof McAdam says that agroforestry is a major tool in our armoury.
"The challenge we face is how to reduce the environmental footprint of farming systems without significantly compromising productivity and to achieve for food production," he said.
The main benefits of integrating animals and tree on farmland include improved soil health, increased biodiversity, tree fodder for cattle to graze on, carbon storage, resilience to extreme weather conditions and improved animal welfare.
An increased grazing season of 12 weeks is a significant benefit from both an animal welfare point of view and from the point of view of becoming more resilient to adverse weather conditions, according to Prof McAdam.
"They [cattle] can be kept out of the shed for longer and there’s less incidences of respiratory issues as a result.
"It also reduces the amount of ammonia they are releasing when they are housed," he said.
When cattle are in silvopasture, they have more of a variation in habitat structure, which reduces boredom and, also, they have more shade and shelter. This, he said, is particularly beneficial to sheep who seek out shelter.
Arguably the most important benefit of agroforestry, according to Prof McAdam, is the carbon storage element.
"When the carbon stored in the wood, pasture and soil is added in, these systems have the potential to store long-term and short-term carbon,” he said.
In relation to tree fodder, Prof McAdam said that there is evidence that eating twigs and leaves from trees can reduce methane emissions from ruminants.
He advised farmers to plant a mixture of species to suit the site and that will deliver a range of environmental benefits.
By planting a mixture of tree types, it gives resilience to disease, he said.