Agroforestry in Action: The Inaugural NSW Tree Conference

In an era where sustainability and conservation are paramount, the inaugural NSW Tree Conference, held in partnership with Greening Bathurst, Central Tablelands Local Land Services, and the Central Tablelands Regional Landcare Network, marked a significant milestone in integrating forestry with agricultural systems. This pioneering conference underscored the invaluable role of trees as an alternative crop under the theme, "Natural Capital: Trees as an Alternative Crop," spotlighting agroforestry's crucial role in sustainable farming's future.

The conference highlighted the importance of enhancing natural capital by weaving forestry into the fabric of agricultural landscapes. This initiative aimed at not only diversifying income streams for farmers but also at bolstering ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and biodiversity enhancement. The keynote speakers, luminaries in their fields, provided insights and practical knowledge to landholders, researchers, and policy-makers.

In-depth Insights from Keynote Speakers

Rowan Reid is recognized as a pioneer in the field of agroforestry in Australia. With a rich background in developing the country's first undergraduate course in agroforestry and the highly successful Australian Master TreeGrower Program, Reid's presentation focused on practical ways landholders can blend forestry into their farming practices. He emphasized the multifaceted benefits of agroforestry, including enhanced biodiversity, soil conservation, and additional income streams through sustainable wood production. Reid's approach provided a compelling argument for viewing trees as a crop that can coexist with traditional agriculture, enriching both the land and the landowner.

Dr. Fabiano Ximenes, a Senior Research Scientist in Forest Science with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, brought to the conference his groundbreaking work on woody crop trials across New South Wales. His research explores the potential of using marginal, underutilized lands for growing trees, specifically targeting the biofuels market. Ximenes discussed the environmental and economic advantages of this strategy, which not only provides a renewable energy source but also improves land quality and productivity. His work underscores the potential of marginal lands to contribute significantly to a sustainable energy future.

Professor Rodney Keenan from the School of Agriculture, Food, and Ecosystem Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Professor Rodney Keenan explored the economic rationale behind integrating trees into farming operations. His talk centered on how agroforestry fits into the broader context of carbon-neutral agricultural accounting and the role of trees in creating more sustainable and resilient farming systems. By examining the business case for trees on farms, Keenan highlighted the potential for agroforestry to provide economic benefits through carbon credits, timber production, and enhanced ecosystem services.

Spotlight on Short Talks

Dr. Daniel Florance a Senior Research Officer with the Australian National University's Sustainable Farms Team, Dr. Daniel Florance, shared his expertise as a field-based research ecologist. His work emphasizes designing and managing on-farm natural assets like shelterbelts, agroforestry systems, and revegetation projects to maximize their benefits. Florance's research highlights how strategic tree planting can bolster biodiversity while improving agricultural productivity, showcasing the symbiotic relationship between farming and nature.

Dr. David Bush, as the Director of the CSIRO Australian Tree Seed Centre, Dr. David Bush discussed the critical role of seed collection and genetics in Australian tree species conservation and utilization. His focus on supporting multiple uses of trees—from forestry and agricultural integration to carbon sequestration and biomass for bioenergy—underscored the importance of genetic diversity and selection in successful agroforestry projects.

Nick Milham, the Group Director of Forestry Policy, Research & Development at the Department of Primary Industries, provided insights into the legislative requirements and standards for farm forestry. His talk covered the critical aspects of compliance and best practices for projects exceeding 30 hectares, including biodiversity, carbon, biomass, and timber plantings. Milham's guidance was invaluable for participants looking to navigate the complex regulatory environment surrounding agroforestry.

Heath Molden, the Manager of the Central West Forestry Hub, discussed the region's potential to expand its forestry production. Addressing the impact of climate change and showcasing models for agroforestry profitability, Molden offered a forward-looking perspective on how the Central West can leverage forestry as a key component of its agricultural landscape.

The afternoon workshops offered hands-on insights into the practical implementation of agroforestry, the economic aspects of integrating trees into farming practices, and the emerging markets for carbon and biodiversity credits. These sessions facilitated an engaging learning environment, fostering discussions on practical skills, financial viability, and the potential of agroforestry to contribute to environmental sustainability.

Day Two: Experiencing Agroforestry in Practice

The second day of the NSW Tree Conference transitioned from theoretical discussions to practical demonstrations, providing attendees with a firsthand look at the successful integration of trees within agricultural systems.

The journey began with a visit to a farm located 25 kilometers north of Bathurst. Here, participants explored young shelter belts, aged between four to six years, established as part of a biodiversity credits scheme. This site vividly demonstrated the multifaceted benefits of integrating trees into farming landscapes. Attendees observed the ecosystem services provided by these shelter belts, including windbreaks, runoff control, and the creation of shaded areas that offer respite for livestock. The visit underscored the significance of trees in enhancing farm biodiversity, illustrating how they contribute to a more resilient and sustainable farming ecosystem.

The excursion then led to Sunny Corner, situated 25 kilometers east of Bathurst, where an organic vegetable farm with 30-year-old agroforestry plantings awaited. This site presented a contrast to the first, showcasing a mature integration of both native and northern hemisphere tree species within the agricultural landscape. Rowan Reid, one of the keynote speakers from the previous day, guided the tour, explaining how each tree species could be leveraged in the wood products market. This visit offered a comprehensive view of the long-term benefits and considerations in selecting tree species for agroforestry, highlighting the importance of matching species to the specific market demands and environmental conditions of the farm.

Throughout the day, discussions focused on the practical aspects of agroforestry, from the initial selection and planting of tree species to their integration into the broader farm management plan. Participants engaged in conversations about the challenges and opportunities of agroforestry, sharing insights on how to navigate the complexities of integrating trees into existing agricultural practices.

The day concluded with reflections on the unique potential of each property for agroforestry projects. It was emphasized that successful integration requires careful consideration of the market goals for tree products and the environmental conditions of the land. This practical component of the conference not only enriched the attendees' understanding of agroforestry but also inspired them to envision and implement sustainable farming practices that harmonize with the natural environment.

The conference concluded on a note of optimism and inspiration, underscoring that agroforestry projects are unique to each property and that landholders should tailor their practices to the markets they aim to serve and the specific environmental conditions of their land. This event not only highlighted the practical aspects of agroforestry but also set the stage for future innovations in sustainable farming practices, making it a landmark event for all stakeholders involved in agriculture and forestry.

By fostering a deeper understanding of the synergies between forestry and agriculture, the NSW Tree Conference has paved the way for a future where farming and forestry coexist harmoniously, contributing to a sustainable, productive, and biodiverse landscape.