In the last 15 years, the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) Alto Valle led research to implement agroforestry systems with poplars and willows as a productive alternative in the valleys of northern Patagonia. The main objective is to diversify the systems of small and medium producers in a region where the area allocated to fruit forests has decreased.
The INTA Alto Valle forestry production specialist, Esteban Thomas, highlighted the innovative approach of these systems, which involve combining poplar and willow afforestation with agricultural crops during the first years, known as agroforestry systems, and with livestock during the rest of the cycle. forestry, called silvopastoral systems.
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In this context, Thomas emphasized: “From the trials and experiences with producers, relevant information was obtained to recommend agroforestry system models to those seeking to reconvert and diversify productive systems in farms.”
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In turn, the decrease in fruit forests in the region led to some hectares being replaced by various crops such as alfalfa, vegetables, corn, walnut trees, almond trees, cherry trees, among others. However, a proportion of these lands were cleared and unused for the implementation of new crops.
Esteban Thomas from INTA Alto Valle highlighted the innovation of combining poplars and willows with agricultural crops and livestock in agroforestry systems. (Photo: INTA).
INTA Alto Valle proposes the implementation of agroforestry systems in areas not occupied by fruit forests
In this sense, these systems seek to diversify crops by associating forestry production, intended for sawing wood, poles and firewood, with forage production, such as bales and rolls of alfalfa, sorghum, oats, barley, among other pastures, as well as also with the production of cereals and livestock activities.
Meanwhile, Thomas highlighted that these agroforestry systems combine forestry production with agriculture in agroforestry systems, and with livestock production in silvopastoral systems, providing a comprehensive and sustainable alternative for small and medium-sized producers in the region.
He stated: “The integration of agricultural activities with forestry production not only diversifies income at the farm level, but also improves the stability of the productive system.”
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In addition, under the INTA Alto Valle testing program, the adaptability and growth of new clones of poplars and willows are evaluated, making it possible to recommend those that best adapt to the specific characteristics of each site where agroforestry systems will be implemented.
According to Thomas, “the wood of these species is key for the sawing and winding industry, especially in the manufacture of containers and packaging for the transport of fruit and vegetable products, as well as for obtaining beams, boards, braces and tongues in the sector. of the construction”.
These systems seek to diversify crops by combining forestry production with forage, cereals and livestock. (Photo: INTA).
On the other hand, the specialist highlighted the incorporation of new Euro-American hybrid poplars, such as Triplo and Ragonese 22 INTA, as well as deltoid poplars such as Ñacurutú INTA, Carabelas INTA and Paycarabí INTA. In addition, new hybrid willows are added such as Los Arroyos INTA-CIEF, Agronales INTA-CIEF and Tehuelche INTA, based on the results obtained in the trials.
Poplars with alfalfa and horticultural crops: 555 per hectare
“The differential growth of trees and the productivity of different crops in agroforestry systems with different densities and silvicultural management were also evaluated to maximize the production of crops associated with forest beds,” said Thomas. He highlighted the importance of adjusting these factors to achieve optimal results.
In 2009, a demonstration plot was installed comparing a traditional planting model of Euro-American Guardi poplars with two agroforestry alternatives: poplars with alfalfa and poplars with horticultural crops, at a density of 555 trees per hectare.
In the subplots with poplar cultivation associated with alfalfa, bales were produced during the first three years, while in the subplots with poplars and horticultural crops, anco squash was obtained in the first year and sweet corn in the second and third years.
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“In those subplots that did not have intercropping, spontaneous vegetation was controlled by clearing. During the first 5 years, greater growth was observed in the diameter of poplars in agroforestry systems compared to the traditional forestry model,” explained the researcher.
In 2012, an evaluation of winter green production was carried out in a hybrid poplar stand that had been thinned at age 14 to reduce the density from 280 trees per hectare to 140 trees per hectare. The greens were sown in a consociational way in the 12 meter wide alleys, using triticale and vetch in the first consociation and oats, barley and vetch in the second. The results showed a production of 1,968 kilos of dry matter per hectare in the combination of triticale and vetch, and 2,445 kilos of dry matter per hectare in the combination of oats, barley and vetch.
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“This allows us to infer that thinning in silvopastoral systems with poplars and willows, from which light restriction is reduced, allows for the production of a greater amount of forage from pure or associated pastures,” Thomas highlighted. Likewise, he stressed the importance of adequate management of tree density to promote forage production in these systems.
In the subplots with poplar cultivation next to alfalfa, bales were produced during the first three years; In the subplots with poplars and horticultural crops, anco squash was obtained in the first year and sweet corn in the second and third years. (Photo: INTA).
These models are based on the implementation of afforestations with wide distances of 8 to 12 meters between rows and 4 to 6 meters between plants within the rows, with low densities of 150 to 350 trees per hectare, or less wide distances of 6 to 8 meters between rows and 3 to 4 meters between plants within the rows, with intermediate densities of 350 to 650 trees per hectare.
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Finally, Thomas explained that the availability of irrigation water during the first years allows the production of alfalfa bales or rolls, grains or silage from whole corn plants, sorghum rolls, among other annual forages, in the interrows of these beds. as well as various horticultural products.
Furthermore, depending on the associated crops chosen, two crops per year can be carried out sequentially, such as winter greening and summer greening, or winter greening and spring-summer horticultural crops.
Subsequently, before light levels are limiting for its implementation, perennial pastures can be planted, pure or associated, with fescue, orchard grass and clovers, or winter greens with oats, barley, triticale and vetch to direct grazing of animals.
“The initial plantation density determines the technical feasibility of each associated crop and livestock plantation at different times of the forest cycle. It depends on the planning of pruning and eventual thinning, as well as the shade tolerance of each particular crop,” he concluded.