Planting trees can boost farm productivity by 30 per cent and improve animal welfare, according to a new agroforestry handbook published this week.

Drawing on case studies from across the globe it concludes that agroforestry systems are often more than 30 per cent more productive than monocultural systems.

It also highlights opportunities for UK farmers to replace imports with tree products such as fruit, nuts, fence post timber, animal bedding, fuel wood and mulches.

The free handbook, produced in collaboration with the Farm Woodland Forum and the Soil Association, aims to inform farmers of the benefits of agroforestry, as well as helping farmers decide which trees and system are best for their farm.

Ben Raskin, Soil Association head of horticulture & agroforestry, said: “At a time of great environmental and political uncertainty, planting trees on farms is a great way to help farmers keep their farms sustainable and resilient for years to come.

“Trees can bring a whole range of benefits both to the farm and wider environment including improved soil health, carbon capture, biodiversity and animal welfare, as well as protecting soil from wind and water erosion given the increasingly volatile weather we are getting.

“There is a lack of support and information available from government on how farm businesses can make agroforestry work both in the long and short term, so we are delighted to have been a part of this project to create a practical guide for farmers.”

The guide provides detail on the different types of agroforestry, including combining trees and livestock in silvopastoral systems, combining trees and crops in silvoarable systems, and using hedgerows, shelterbelts and riparian buffer strips.

According to the handbook, improving animal welfare with trees can boost farm productivity with:

• 17 per cent increase in milk production

• 50 per cent reduction in lamb mortality

• Shelter: If animals are sheltered from sun, wind, rain or snow, they use less energy to keep cool or warm and can therefore use that energy to put on weight or produce more milk.

• Forage: Trees can also provide extra food for livestock – e.g. mulberry leaves have up to 28 per cent protein. This can be grown either to be eaten fresh or dried and fed like hay in the winter.

• Health: A range of tree crops to browse can also improve health – e.g. cattle often self-medicate by eating willow, which contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Aspirin.

• Grazing: Trees can increase the length of a grazing season, by increasing temperature due to shelter, and helping to dry out wetter areas of land it is sometime possible to increase grazing days. This reduces the need for farmers to bring in food from elsewhere.