Agroforestry has a long history in Germany: forest farming and pastures, hedgerow systems and meadow orchards have been wide-spread.
Traditional hedgerow systems have been established since the ~10th, but especially in the 18th century. They were established as living fences for fields and pastures, to function as windbreaks, and as a source of various goods, e.g. fuelwood, construction timber, livestock feed, berries and nuts. The prevalent systems are hedgerows on man-made soil ridges, so-called “Wallhecken”. The ridges are covered with various combinations of shrubs, trees and herbs. The highest density of this traditional agroforestry system could and can still be found in Germany’s northern federal states. The importance of the hedgerows has changed: they widely lost their function as a source of food and feed; instead they are increasingly valued for providing multiple ecosystem services such as: effective wind breaks, preventing soil erosion, fire wood production from harvested remnant trees and as an important retreat for many plant and animal species (see photo 1).
The federal state with the highest density and diversity of Wallhecken is Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s most northern federals state, located between the Northern and the Baltic Sea. In Schleswig-Holstein, the hedgerow system is known under the name “Knicks”. At the start of the 20th century, Knicks had a density of more than 6 km of length per km². Nowadays, as a result of the agricultural intensification and mechanization, the estimates for their density range from 2.8 to 4.3 km per km². Not only the quantity, but also the quality of the hedgerow system has declined. Wallhecken need appropriate management to maintain their biodiversity: insufficient or inadequate maintenance measures result in damaged soil ridges, vegetation gaps or tree that have grown to heights and structures comparable to common forests (see photo 2). Some more impressions from Rindergilde Geesthacht and NABU.
Further agroforestry systems found in many parts of Germany are the so called “Streuobstwiesen” (orchard meadows; see photo 3, 4), i.e. the combination of fruit trees and meadows. From the initial 1.5 mill. hectares of Streuobstwiesen in Germany only around 300.000 ha remain, mostly located in southern Germany (e.g. Baden-Württemberg) and many are still actively managed. Those located in the mid-eastern part (e.g. in Thuringia) are mostly abandoned today. This can be related to the loss of small scale agricultural farms, which was the result of move towards large scale agricultural structures stimulated in the German Democratic Republic (GDR; photo 4) and the general development to produce fruits like apple or pear in bush tree plantation systems.
Historically, silvopastoral system were very common in Germany as so called “Hutewald” (e.g., pig feeding under oak trees) and partly existed until the end of the 19th century in Germany (e.g. the Solling hills in Central Germany). Today, some of these systems have been reestablished, e.g., to produce pork of high quality (for further info see: www.eichelschwein.de and photo 5). At other sites, forest pasturing has been reintroduced within the context of landscape maintenance programs, often as a tool to support and strengthen biological biodiversity, e.g. on 40 ha of pine forest in the Pfälzerwald Nature Park (for further info click here).
Modern agroforestry applications are predominantly found in experimental fields where they are used for research and as showcase for interested farmers.
Two main types of agroforestry systems have been promoted within that framework:
- Alley-cropping systems with rows of short-rotation-coppices of poplar, willow, alder or black locust on arable land, also called short rotation alley cropping system (SRACS; photo 6 and 7). Those systems have been shown to be very promising agroforestry systems especially in areas which are strongly affected by wind erosion and without many landscape structures. Furthermore, SRACS have the potential to function as riparian buffer strips that can mitigate soil and stream water pollution. Additionally, they may provide a regular and renewable supply of raw material for heating energy but also for material use (photo 8; for further info and examples on short-rotation-coppices systems click here).
- Different types of agroforestry systems combining different broadleaved tree species for valuable wood production with various crops and pasture feeding (photo 9).
AGROFORESTRY ASSOCIATIONS in GERMANY
The AG Agroforst Deutschland, which is the German working group on Agroforestry, is an association of scientists, consultants as well as practitioners, who are interested in various aspects of agroforestry. Their interests cover the contribution to newly applied field experiments and research projects, teaching activities for students and farmers, rediscovering and application of traditional agroforestry systems as well as political activities on the local, national and international level. The working group was founded in 2012 in Göttingen, Germany. Since 2013 the association is an official working group of the German Crop Science Society (Gesellschaft für Pflanzenbauwissenschaften e.V.) and a member of EURAF. Presently the AG Agroforst Deutschland has more than 30 members and Norbert Lamersdorf from the Göttingen University together with Rüdiger Graß from the University of Kassel are currently chairman of the AG. Norbert Lamersdorf is also the national delegate for EURAF while Rico Hübner from the Technical University of Munich is vice national EURAF delegate.
The DeFAF (“Deutscher Fachverband für Agroforstwirtschaft“) is another Germany agroforestry association committed to the installation, management, distribution and promotion of agroforestry systems in Germany. The DeFAF is not tied to any specific farming or agroforestry system and is open to all persons interested in agroforestry. The DeFAF is active in the following fields: public relations, management and economics, planning and consulting, education and training, research and development, technology and services, law and administration, and international cooperation. The DeFAF inaugural meeting took place on June 25, 2019 in Berlin. The head quarter of the DeFAF is situated in Cottbus and the office can be reached via info [at] defaf [dot] de (mail).
The German working group and DeFAF meet regularly at changing locations during the “Forum Agroforstsysteme”, where scientists, practitioners and interested public meet to discuss agroforestry-related topics. The last meetings took place in Senftenberg/Brandenburg (2016), Göttingen/Lower Saxony (2018), Freising/Bavaria (2019) and the 8th Forum will be held in Saxony Anhalt.
In Germany, the 2nd pillar of the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is implemented at federal state level, involving a total of 13 different rural development programs (RDPs). Although the establishment and maintenance of agroforestry systems was not taken into account in any of the programs, all programs support the maintenance of traditional agroforestry systems at some level: Hedgerow systems are considered as protected landscape elements. Five federal states support maintenance measures to restore and preserve existing and/or measures to plant new hedgerow systems. Most federal states implement programs to maintain orchard meadows. Six rural development programs support measures to restore and preserve existing and/or measures to plant new orchard meadows; two federal states support marketing measures for orchard products.
Nevertheless, an essential prerequisite for the establishment of new agroforestry systems by farmers is that subsidies from Pillar I and II of the EU's agricultural support are provided for agroforestry as a land use system, including both components (crops/pasture and trees/shrubs) of agroforestry. Currently funds are granted, but the wooded and the farmed part are treated as separate plots.
Likewise, agroforestry is not recognized as a land use system by national laws, which are based on agricultural EU funding programs and regulations. The main reason for this situation is the absence of a clear definition of agroforestry in EU regulations. According to statements made by several german ministry officials, agroforestry systems are not eligible for agricultural support based on the present EU regulations. This was e.g. communicated to members of the research project AUFWERTEN at several official meetings conducted since 2014 (AUFWERTEN is a German Agroforestry research project, financially supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and coordinated at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg; www.agroforst-info.de).
Because of this problem, German agroforestry stakeholders strongly encourage the following changes/adjustments/additions to provide a better political framework for agroforestry in Germany:
Agroforestry systems should be clearly defined and the whole area of an agroforestry system (crops/pasture and trees/shrubs) should be part of the eligible agricultural area.
Presently, there are two main obstacles:
- Agroforestry in Article 23 (Regulation (EU) No. 1305/2013) is linked to Article 21 (Regulation (EU) No. 1305/2013), as a result, in Germany it is presently perceived as a forestry area.
- There is no clear definition of agroforestry in EU regulations. The following definition is
- present only in Article 23 (Regulation (EU) No. 1305/2013): “For the purposes of this Article, agroforestry systems means land use systems in which trees are grown in combination with agriculture on the same land.” In this definition, however, the explicit reference that trees/shrubs are part of the agricultural area is missing.
Exact features of an eligible agroforestry field are required in order to ensure the controllability of agroforestry systems. For that, a combination of trees/shrubs (including so called permanent crops) and crops or livestock should be allowed on the same agricultural field.
The main obstacle is that:
- Presently, trees and shrubs are not considered to be part of the eligible agricultural area. Trees/shrubs are deducted from the eligible area, except when trees provide repeated yields (e.g. fruit trees).
The eligibility of high diversity of agroforestry systems should be ensured, depending on
different site conditions and economic requirements of member states.
The problem here is:
- Generally, the maximum number of 100 trees per hectare, which is commonly used also for agroforestry systems, severely limits the diversity of potentially possible agroforestry systems.
Photo 1: Hedgerow system in Germany’s most northern federal state Schleswig-Holstein, known under the name “Knicks”. Photo: Klaus Dürkop (the photo may not be used without the written approval of the rights holder)
Photo 2: Wallhecken. Photo: N. Lamersdorf
Photo 3: “Streuobstwiesen” (meadow orchards) Photo: Ch. Morhart
Photo 4: “Streuobstwiesen”, abandoned. Photo: Ch. Böhm
Photo 5: Reestablished silvopastoral systems (for further info see here) Photo: B. Stimm and Hans-H. Huss)
Photo 6: Short rotation alley cropping system comprising poplar and wheat, Federal State of Brandenburg, eastern Germany. Photo: Ch. Böhm
Photo 7: Short rotation alley cropping system, Federal State of Thuringia, eastern Germany. Photo: N. Lamersdorf
Photo 8: Products, including significant amounts of woody feedstock material from poplar short-rotation-coppices. Photo: N. Lamersdorf
Photo 9: Agroforestry systems combining different broadleaved tree species for valuable wood production with various crops and pasture (for further info see here). Photo: N. Lamersdorf