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Using a multidisciplinary, interagency approach for extension training in agroforestry: Facilitating landowner decisions

Sandra S. Hodge

University of Missouri - Center for Agroforestry,
203 ABNR, Columbia, MO 65211. USA.


Agroforestry is a form of sustainable land use that combines trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock in ways that increase and diversify farm and forest production while also conserving natural resources. In the U.S., five temperate agroforestry practices are recognized--alley cropping, silvopasture, forest farming, riparian forest buffers, and windbreaks (Gold et al., 2000).

In the state of Missouri as elsewhere, family farms are suffering from some of the lowest commodity prices in history. This suggests a need for a shift from traditional monoculture commodity production – that may be viable for large farms but overlooks the needs of family farms – to more non-traditional approaches including agroforestry. Agroforestry practices can help improve economic stability for small and medium-sized operators through the diversification of farm and woodlot enterprises. By using agroforestry practices, landowners are also taking pro-active measures to help protect the water, soil and wildlife resources on their land.

While the benefits of agroforestry are apparent and recognized in the tropics, the five practices are not well-known in the U.S. In order for landowners to make decisions to adopt agroforestry, new extension efforts are necessary. At present, the primary sources of information and technical assistance for new approaches to farming are natural resource and agriculture extension professionals. Yet, they are as unfamiliar with agroforestry as are the farmers they serve. One of the actions recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Commission on Small Farms (1998) was that the service providers such as agricultural extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and forestry professionals make greater efforts to promote and support agroforestry as part of an economic and ecological strategy for a healthy agriculture.

Lack of understanding, access to information and limited outreach programs have been identified as major impediments to the wider adoption of agroforestry (AFTA 2000, 1977; Garrett et al, 2000). Part of this is due to the multidisciplinary nature of agroforestry. Attempts at developing extension and outreach programs have been hampered by the fact that academics and resource professionals tend to work only within their respective disciplines. To develop an effective agroforestry technology transfer and extension program requires a unique approach that incorporates the forestry, agriculture, horticulture, conservation and economic components of the various practices and brings together natural resource and agricultural extension professionals who otherwise would not usually work together.

In most of the U.S., agriculture and natural resource professionals are the first contact point for the farmer and, in general, farmers trust them. In an effort to equip natural resource professionals with the skills in agroforestry to provide technical assistance to farmers, the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry (UMCA), through their technology transfer and outreach program, is building partnerships with natural resource professionals in local, state and federal agencies in Missouri. The technology transfer and outreach program focuses on three primary areas. First, is the building of inter-agency and inter-organizational partnerships to provide technical assistance. The second is devoted to information dissemination, including an agroforestry professional training program. And the third is socio-economic research devoted to understanding benefit/cost analysis of agroforestry and what factors facilitate or constrain adoption of agroforestry practices. This paper discusses the design of the agroforestry extension program utilizing regional agroforestry teams, the agroforestry technical assistance training program, and informational materials to support technical assistance in the field.

The Technology Transfer and Outreach Program at the University of Missouri

Building partnerships

Just over four years ago, the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry (UMCA) established a technology transfer and extension outreach program to foster the adoption of agroforestry in Missouri. A faculty position in the Center was created specifically for the purpose of developing, implementing, and directing the extension program. The position also directs the UMCA’s social science research program related to agroforestry adoption.

It was realized early on—given the multidisciplinary nature of agroforestry—that a cooperative effort would be required to assist farmers in developing agroforestry practices. University outreach/extension, while able to provide assistance with agronomy and livestock, for example, did not have expertise in forestry. Conversely, foresters do not have training in agronomy and livestock management. Horticulturalists could provide expertise on vegetable or fruit crops, but perhaps not livestock and forestry. Other resource professionals, such as those in the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which has offices in each state) or local soil and water agency technicians, have expertise in conservation practices but may not have forestry or agriculture skills. To achieve this partnership, the director of the technology transfer and outreach unit began to develop “regional teams” of resource professionals with representatives from the agencies mentioned above.

At present, there are six teams throughout the state of Missouri representing different ecological regions. The purposes of the regional teams are to:

  • provide an interdisciplinary approach to planning and implementation of the temperate agroforestry practices in Missouri;
  • develop partnerships among agencies and organizations to maximize resources and share information on techniques for designing practices as well as available incentives/subsidies;
  • identify training needs for natural resource professionals and to train “trainers” to extend agroforestry;
  • implement field demonstrations of agroforestry practices in collaboration with natural resource professionals and landowners/farmers; and
  • assist in the design of the practices by creating templates for each of the agroforestry practices with species specific to each ecological region.

The teams are anchored primarily by staff from the University of Missouri Outreach and Extension (U/OE), the Missouri Department of Conservation, Forestry Division (MDC) and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), although there is other participation which varies by team. Some teams have farmers, others have community development specialists, members of conservation/environmental groups or agricultural lenders. These regional teams have an additional advantage aside from interdisciplinary planning of the agroforestry practices. This is the number of farmers and landowners that the team members can reach, as a group, versus solely through their own agency. The teams learn about agroforestry together and design the practices together and then each goes out to work with their respective client base. This increases the opportunity for extending agroforestry because each person who is on the staff of an agency or institution has a client base.

Agroforestry technical assistance training

Agroforestry training has been an important technology transfer activity of the UMCA. The first step in the process was to hold six regional one-day introductory courses for natural resource professionals throughout Missouri. They provided suggestions for further training needs. In response to their suggestions, a second, two-day, in- depth course was held. During the course, natural resource professionals were organized into regional teams so they could design practices with species appropriate to their respective regions. Most recently, in 2000, a third course was held and a new segment added: the economics of agroforestry. Natural resource professionals were provided with user-friendly worksheets for use in the field to assess the benefit/cost analysis of shifting from a monoculture operation to an agroforestry practice. Training natural resource professionals in multidisciplinary regional teams establishes a special cadre of individuals who can assist each other in designing practices in similar ecological zones.

During the most recent UMCA training program, a prototype of a new temperate agroforestry training manual was tested. This manual is being revised and should be completed in 2002. It is designed to be used as a generic agroforestry training template and can be adapted for most temperate zones. In fact, the provincial agroforester in British Columbia, Canada has already modified the UMCA manual to fit their training needs. The manual covers the design and implementation of the practices, the economics of agroforestry, how to design a case study and a framework for setting up a technology transfer and extension program for agroforestry.

Response from the three primary agencies involved in sending resource professionals to the agroforestry training has been very positive. In fact, UO/E has integrated agroforestry into its state base program for agriculture and natural resources. This planning document outlines educational objectives and anticipated impacts/results from activities such as agroforestry. Funds have been committed by the MDC to support research in tree improvement for agroforestry as well as providing support for technology transfer activities at UMCA. The NRCS works closely with the UMCA in the design of forested riparian buffers and windbreak design.

In addition to workshops, in-field training is also offered. Over the last several years, on-site training has been conducted on the design of silvopasture practices, forested riparian buffers and alley cropping. Most in-field trainings are held on the property of a landowner who is interested in establishing agroforestry and has agreed to an extension visit also functioning as a training opportunity. Resource professionals who have attended previous agroforestry training often participate in the presentations. Over 150 resource professionals have been trained throughout Missouri.

Information dissemination

To assist technical activities in the field, UMCA has developed a number of support materials. The Agroforestry-in-Action series is a technical agroforestry publication for use by both natural resource professionals and landowners. Titles include Growing Pecans, Propagating Walnuts and Pecans in Missouri, and Trees, Shrubs and Forages for Agroforestry Practices in Missouri. Two issues are devoted to the economics of agroforestry—Economic Budgeting for Agroforestry and Tax Considerations for the Establishment of Agroforestry Practices. While the economic publications focus on Missouri, they have application for other U.S. states.

A five-video series is also being produced. Alley cropping and silvopasture are completed with windbreaks scheduled for fall 2001, forested riparian buffers and forest farming for 2002. Each video discusses the design and maintenance considerations for the practice and features farmers who have adopted agroforestry practices discussing why they did so.

In order to continue networking amongst resource professionals in the state, a list serve has been developed specifically for those trained in agroforestry. A Resource Directory has been published containing the names of all natural resource professionals who are trained in agroforestry. They are listed by county with their respective disciplines. Landowners who adopted agroforestry are also listed with their specific practice. Using the resource directory, natural resource professionals and landowners will be able to contact others who are familiar with, or practicing, agroforestry in the state.

The UMCA has an active agroforestry field research program at the University’s 660 acre Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC) which supports the Center’s technology transfer and extension effort. Extension and outreach activities identify farmer’s needs and provide a feedback mechanism to help prioritize research efforts at HARC. In an iterative process, data from current agroforestry research is fed back to landowners through extension. Some examples of research activities include forage studies under several shade regimes, the effect of forested riparian buffers in mitigating run-off from adjacent land-use into water resources, specialty mushroom production in woodlots, cultivar selection for growing walnuts and pecans and the flood tolerance of plants used for riparian plantings. Field days held at HARC provide an excellent opportunity for farmers and resource professionals to see agroforestry designs.

Finally, UMCA has a website ( which is being revised. In the near future, the site will list the Center’s mission, personnel, research activities, and links to other temperate agroforestry sites. A special section will be devoted to landowners who are practicing agroforestry. An interactive map of the state of Missouri will show a landowner’s location and when clicked, a photo of the type of agroforestry being practiced and information on how to contact that particular landowner, if they are agreeable.


As the number of agriculture and natural resource professionals trained in agroforestry increases, adoption should become more wide-spread. Their training, the provision of technical support materials and a demonstration site such as HARC, is critical in preparing these professionals to assist landowners. Having a cadre of professionals trained specifically in agroforestry and prepared to deliver technical assistance to design and implement the practices is one of the first steps in facilitating a landowner’s decision to adopt agroforestry.


1. AFTA, 2000. Agroforestry in the United States: Research and Technology Transfer Needs for the Next Millennium. Association for Temperate Agroforestry.

2.  AFTA, 1997. The Status, Opportunities and Needs for Agroforestry in the United States: A National Report. Association for Temperate Agroforestry.

3. Lassoie, J.P. and L. E. Buck, 2000. Development of Agroforestry as an Integrated Land Use Management Strategy. In H.E. Garrett, W.J. Rietveld and R.F. Fisher (Eds.) North American Agroforestry: An Integrated Science and Practice. American Society of Agronomy: Madison, Wisconsin, pp: 1-29.

4. Gold, M.A., et al., 2000. Agroforestry Nomenclature, Concepts and Practices for the United States. In H.E. Garrett, W.J. Rietveld and R.F. Fisher (Eds.) North American Agroforestry: An Integrated Science and Practice. American Society of Agronomy: Madison, Wisconsin, pp: 63-78.

5. USDA. 1998. A Time to Act: A report of the USDA National Commission on Small Farms. U.S. Department of Agriculture, MP-1545, Washington, D.C.

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