Agroecology and its sustainable practices/Chapter II. Trees in agricultural ecosystems.

in ecoTrain2 years ago (edited)
Greetings, dear readers, we have already described in previous articles the importance of crop associations, especially when carried out with creeping species. On this occasion we will address aspects related to the function of trees in agricultural ecosystems, particularly in agroforestry systems that provide multiple benefits for the proper functioning of both agricultural and livestock systems.

Trees in grazing systems

Image 1. design made by @amestyj 2020 with photo captured by colleague Vladimir Sanchez.

We will start by defining the meaning of agroforestry systems:

Agroforestry systems: Based on the different conceptions proposed by Ospina (2006), in his book called Agroforestry, agroforestry systems can be defined as a set of techniques that involve the combination of forest trees with either livestock or crops. Where two plant species interact and one of them is woody and the other is for agricultural purposes including pasture.

In this sense, when we talk about agroforestry systems, trees automatically come to mind, which undoubtedly, as can be seen in the previous section, is the right thing to do, but if we focus on different agroecological zones, some are temperate regions and others are tropical, For the temperate zones people will think of timber trees, since, for example, one could find pine, but in the tropical zones fruit trees come to mind because of the diversity of tropical species that are found.

Partiendo de dichos enfoques, es necesario conocer algunas de las maneras en que se pueden establecer los sistemas de cultivos asociados con árboles y que beneficios aportan a los agroecosistemas basados en experiencias propias y según los argumentos presentados por Ospina (2006).

- Living fences: When we speak of live fences, we refer to trees or shrubs that are planted in a linear manner along the perimeter of the production units with the intention of delimiting the area. Generally, each tree is planted at the distance considered by the producer and has the function of a post where the wire used to prevent the entry or exit of animals is fixed, Some, despite not being used as poles in the same way, are placed on the boundaries, since the integration of shrubs or trees provide multiple functions to livestock ecosystems as a contribution of biomass for cattle feed, because some species used as legumes have a high percentage of protein.

Live fences using the bush legume Gliricidia sepium

Image 2. Design made by @amestyj 2020 with photography captured in a livestock production unit in the area.

- Windbreak barriers: In the wind break barriers are used trees with the intention of protecting some crops that are vulnerable to the action of the wind, some producers make this type of barrier when planting banana crop taking into account that its root system does not allow it to anchor well on the surface, being affected by strong winds observed a high percentage of plants in the soil, the trees used to implement the barriers can be timber, fruit, fodder, everything will depend on the use or value added that you want to bring the producer to this type of alternative.

Exemplification of windbreak barriers with trees

Image 3. Design made by @amestyj 2020 as a public domain image Roger Schultz 2007.

- Protein bank: this type of systems are implemented in livestock production systems and the most used species are shrub legumes such as Leucaena leucocephala, gliricidia sepium among others, this type of plants contain a high percentage of protein that can vary between 18 and 25%, these alternatives are widely used in tropical areas where pastures tend to have a low percentage of protein. Animals do not stay long on these surfaces because some of these plants have some secondary metabolites or anti-nutritional compounds that can affect the metabolism of ruminant animals.

Protein bank with shrub legume Gliricidia sepium

Image 4. Design made by @amestyj 2020 with photography captured in a livestock production unit in the area.

- Trees on fodder surfaces: this type of technique is known as silvopastoral systems whose name refers to the association of trees with pastures. In this type of system, trees and shrubs can be used, which generally belong to the leguminous family; in the tropical areas of my country, the tree most used and which has adapted perfectly to the agro-ecological conditions is the Samanea, which provides comfort to the animal because of the shade it provides, can also be associated with shrubs that provide, as mentioned above, protein to the animal, where the animal will have available in the same place fibrous food and high amounts of protein.

Silvopastoral system with the shrub legume Leucaena leucocephala

Image 5. Design made by @amestyj 2020 with photography captured in a livestock production unit in the area.

The above mentioned alternatives provide benefits to the agro-ecosystems mentioned below, based on the experience we have obtained and the study of this type of alternatives especially in cattle farms.

- Trees in livestock agroecosystems provide shade, which has a positive effect on temperature, air and soil humidity, generating a microclimate that favors living conditions for all organisms present in the ecosystem.

- The leaves of the trees when falling to the ground which can create a protective layer that allows to control the presence of arvenses, in addition through its decomposition a recycling of the nutrients that have been absorbed by the plant throughout all their stages is generated, of equal way it generates protection to the ground avoiding the erosion by the direct action of the wind and the water.

- Because they are a tree or shrub species, they have a pivoting root that tends to go deeper into the soil, which allows for the extraction and recycling of nutrients to the more superficial layers, which favors plants that have a superficial root system.

- Generally, the trees and/or shrubs used belong to the leguminous or fabaceous family, which have the capacity to generate a symbiosis with bacteria of the Rhizobium genus in their roots, which are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen (N2) to the soil, which is used by the plant for its growth.

- In the cattle sector it generates an environment of comfort for the cattle, since, a microclimate is created that diminishes the temperature what favors to the diminution of the caloric stress in the animal, which is translated in a suitable consumption of forage by the ruminant, because, when the temperature increases the cattle diminishes its food consumption, since, the process of digestion increases its corporal temperature, which would affect significantly the productive performances of the animal.

- They provide an environmental service by capturing carbon dioxide and increasing functional biodiversity by attracting birds among other species of importance to natural ecosystems.

Final considerations.
Dear readers, as you can see, trees are part of the vegetable component that brings benefits to agro-ecosystems. For this reason, we must manage the production units as systems where there is a synergy between the components that make them up, with the intention of generating a natural environment in the spaces that are transformed by man for food production.

The microclimate generated by the trees and/or shrubs together with the constant production of organic matter from the leaves that fall to the ground and the bovine manure in the cattle systems, are fundamental for the starting up of the micro and meso organisms of the ground that decompose this matter mineralizing some of the present nutrients so that they are available for the plants, for that reason one talks about recycling of nutrients.

We hope that the shared material will be useful, in the next delivery will address some aspects concerning the use of bovine manure in agriculture.

Bibliographic references
- Murgueitio, E.; Rosales, M. and Gómez M.(2003). Agroforestry for sustainable animal production. Colombia:CIPAV.

- Ospina, A. (2006). Agroforestry Colombia: ACASOC

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 2 years ago  

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