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Could Trees Help Address The Midwest Farm Crisis — And Climate Change?

Ian Sane
Flickr / CC-by 2.0

A Hanna City farm will soon serve as a model for how to incorporate trees into agriculture.

Sun Dappled Farms —  a private, female-owned operation — is converting all of its 40 acres to agroforestry. That involves growing rows of trees among typical crops and livestock.

Kate Wersan is associate director of the Savanna Institute, an an environmental nonprofit that oversees agroforestry demonstration farms throughout the Midwest.

"Solving climate change in our region basically will also help resolve the farm crisis in our region,” she said. “But it takes a completely different kind of agriculture."

Wersan said hazelnut and chestnut trees can easily take the place of corn and soy — and that could make a huge ecological impact.

For example, she said, if every acre of soybeans in the U.S. was replaced with an acre of hazelnut trees, it would offset nearly one-third of the country’s carbon emissions.

“Primarily, it's because you're not plowing up the soil, tearing everything down and pulling up roots,” Wersan said. “So you've got these really long-lived, deep-rooted plants that are sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and then storing it in the soil."

She said it’s also more profitable for farmers — helping cut equipment, fertilizer and crop storage costs.

The Savanna Institute is using a $200,000 grant to create three demonstration farms in Illinois and another in Wisconsin this year. More demo farms are planned for the next few years.

Wersan said they’re meant to be an educational tool for producers about how to incorporate agroforestry into their current practices.

Currently, only 1.5 percent of U.S. farms utilize the practice, according to Savanna Institute data.

Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.