Drive along the backroads of the U.S. Midwest and you’ll see farm fields stretching for thousands of acres. The rolling hills are sliced into straight rows, filled with the same plants all standing in line.

Many farmers here are monoculture-focused, planting only corn or soybeans. These crops are annual plants; each year, fields are prepared and planted, using large amounts of energy, fertilizers, and pesticides. Excess agrochemicals seep from field to stream, polluting waterways and killing beneficial insects, while constant plowing hastens soil erosion. In years of excess water, like the 2019 flooding, these detrimental effects can be exacerbated.

But what if many of these problems, ecologic and economic, could be tempered by going back to the Midwest’s roots? Instead of one or two dominant crops being grown, could some farmland be planted with perennial, native, nut or fruit trees?

Trees stabilize soils while holding and filtering water, encourage biodiversity, which can reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and temper the effects of a changing climate. And the nuts and fruits can be harvested and sold, diversifying a farmer’s crops and revenue streams.

Changing course from monocropping to diverse multicrop farms has a few bottlenecks, but researchers are working to help farmers with agroforestry — as the combination of woody perennials like trees and shrubs with annual crops is known — and propping up nut tree markets. If successful, agroforestry could be a boon to Midwestern farmers and communities.

Source: Mongabay