Farmers do not often see trees as a crop they would consider planting, but evidence shows they can boost their incomes with agroforestry, says Labour MEP and EU agriculture spokesman Paul Brannen.
If ever a crystal ball was needed by farmers, then it is now.
With the car crash that is Brexit looming and an Agriculture Bill being debated that hardly mentions agriculture, a bit of a steer on where to invest and what to avoid would be useful to many reading this.
I do not have a crystal ball either, so feel free to ignore the next few paragraphs.
That said, I would keep an eye on something that is increasingly referred to as the bioeconomy.
The European Commission defines the bioeconomy as ‘the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy’.
So we are talking about feedstocks farmers can grow.
Across the EU, including the UK, the Commission estimates one million new jobs could be created by 2030.
On which parts of the bioeconomy the UK should focus is something that will be hopefully we revealed when the Government publishes its much-delayed UK bioeconomy strategy.
I am hoping there is a specific focus on the use of woody biomass to create a myriad of products including a substitute for cotton, sugars for the pharmaceutical industry and construction timbers.
Farmers often do not see trees as a ‘crop’ they would consider planting, but the times they are a-changing and a diversification into one of the numerous varieties of agroforestry, cue The Archers theme tune, could tick many a box as we leave the Common Agricultural Policy behind and enter the strange and unfamiliar farming landscape of post-Brexit Britain.
A big box that trees can tick is that of ‘increased income’.
Farmer and soil scientist Stephen Briggs has combined apple trees with wheat on his farm in Cambridgeshire, a decision initially made as a solution to the soil erosion problem caused by wind on his Fenland soils.
Now, five years on, he is achieving 80 to 100 pounds more income per hectare than before. That seems a winning argument for agroforestry.
Paul can be found tweeting at @PaulBrannenNE