In forest farming, high-value speciality crops are cultivated under the protection of a forest canopy that has been modified and managed to provide the appropriate conditions. It is a way of utilising forests for short-term income while high-quality trees are being grown for wood products.
Why should I be aware of this?
- Forest farming can provide profitable opportunities for forest and woodland owners, nut growers, sugar maple growers, and herb growers.
- Unlike other agroforestry practices such as alley cropping or silvopasture where trees are introduced into some type of agricultural system, in forest farming, agricultural or cropping techniques are intentionally introduced into existing forested systems.
All about forest farming
Forest farming is not new. It integrates our present knowledge in forestry and agriculture. For centuries the tribal minorities have been practicing forest farming in which multi-purpose trees and plants are selected and planted. Like natural forest stands, they are designed to grow into three stories of crops.
The first to be planted are the canopy tree crops which grow at least 20 meters when mature. They form the upper storey for the forest farm and would thrive under direct sunlight.
While most of these climax trees should be forest trees, multi-functioning trees can also be included. Some examples of pioneering, fast growing exotic forest trees are Gmelina (Gmelina arborea), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta), rain tree Acacia (Albizia saman), and Falcatta (Parathensis falcataria). Indigenous trees like Red Lauan (Shorea negrosensis), and Apitong (Dipterocarpus grandifloris) can also be planted.
Second storey crops
The second storey crops come underneath the canopy. These can be either juvenile forest trees awaiting their turn to grow into the canopy or tree crops which thrive in partial shade. Examples of shade-tolerant fruit tree crops are durian, cacao, coffee, some varieties smaller, shade-tolerant plants can also be cultivated on the tree trunks of these second storey trees. Examples of such are aerial ubi and orchids.
In spite of low level of sunlight, the ground level of the farm forest farm can still be farmed. Examples of crops that be farmed on the forest floor are gabi, anthurium and ginger. Mushrooms like the highly medicinal Ganoderma lucidum, the tasty banana mushrooms (Tjolvariella volvaciae) and various oyster mushroom species can also be cultivated.
Forest farming aims to find a balance between conservation of native biodiversity and wildlife habitat within the forest and limited, judicious utilization of the forest's varied resources. It attempts to bring back into ecological balance secondary growth forests that have been overused and whose ecosystems have become so fragmented that their natural processes are out of equilibrium.
Forest farming methods
Forest farm management methods may include:
- Thinning of overstocked, suppressed tree stands in such a manner that no individual species is decimated.
- Care should be taken to see that the crown cover is never depleted leaving the forest floor exposed to excessive sun, rain and erosion
- Efforts should be made to maintain a cross-section of healthy trees and shrubs of all ages and species, rather than a monoculture of timber species.
- It should be ensured that physical disturbance to the surrounding area is minimized so that the forest ecosystem can recover more quickly.
- Several plants growing symbiotically in diversity generate a higher cummulative yield and ensure a balanced, profitable cash flow for farmers compared to a single or dual cropping as presently practiced.
- With this form of crop diversity, soil nutrients are also recycled more efficiently and pests cannot proliferate rapidly.
- The cost pesticides and fertilizer is minimized because the trees, especially nitrogen fixers, create their own fertilizer in the form of decomposing forest litter.
- Soil erosion will also be avoided as the extensive root system generated by the trees can hold the soil together even during strong downpours.
Forest farming is a solution to global warming and a means to increase the sustainability of farms and livelihoods. Each hectare of this multi-storey farming system sequesters eight to 12 times more greenhouse gases than a rice crop. It takes 30 trees only to offset the greenhouse gases produced by an American family. 
- The Principles and Practices of Forest Farming
- Forest farming
- Forest Farming is a Profitable Solution to Global Warming
- ↑ Agriculture Business Week