COLUMBIA, Mo. — Many small-farm landowners in northeast and southeast Missouri are reluctant to embrace agroforestry practices, but the new farm bill offers incentives that could make them an attractive alternative, University of Missouri researchers say.

"Under this federal legislation, the government is going to share the cost for things like the establishment of riparian buffers," said Corinne Valdivia, MU research associate professor of agricultural economics. "There are a series of resources allocated to protecting the environment and promoting agroforestry."

Agroforestry comprises a set of land-use practices using trees and shrubs in tandem with forages, crops and livestock to protect the environment and enhance profitability. Some of the techniques like alley cropping — growing conventional crops between rows of trees — are relatively new. Others, like using trees for windbreaks or riparian buffers, have long been in use.

Valdivia and her fellow researchers surveyed hundreds of farm-holders in the Mississippi River floodplain farming areas. In Scotland, Lewis and Clark counties in northeast Missouri and in Scott County in southeast Missouri, they sought to measure knowledge of agroforestry practices among farmers and their interest in adopting those practices.

"The major concerns about agroforestry were economic in nature," Valdivia said. "A lot of people think it costs too much to establish agroforestry, too much work to maintain it, and it takes too long to reap the profit."

The 2002 farm bill could alleviate some of those concerns, said Larry Godsey, economic analyst with the MU Center for Agroforestry. He said the legislation allows for far more flexibility in agroforestry practices than previously existing incentives such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

"CRP will fund things like riparian buffers, but only on land that had some crops on it," Godsey said. "Land that was marginal pasture, next to a stream, didn't qualify. The new bill grants incentives for land that wouldn't qualify under CRP but could still benefit from these practices."

One of the most promising programs outlined in the new farm bill is the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). Although it has been around since 1996, "there were very few dollars out there to fund it," Godsey said. "Now, a lot more people will be eligible."

Unlike previous programs, EQIP will offer cost-sharing incentives for timber stand establishment and management, for practices that benefit wildlife, he said. "For instance, if you put in switchgrass, which is great habitat for quail, you can get some extra money."

The farm bill contains several other provisions to encourage agroforestry, Godsey said, "but I think EQIP will be the most popular program."

Valdivia said her data showed farmers were most open to conventional agroforestry practices such as windbreaks and buffers. "That has to do with government policy," she said. "There has been risk-sharing and education for those practices for many years."

Godsey believes the incentives will encourage other agroforestry approaches. Whether a landowner wants to put up windbreaks, riparian buffers or stands of timber, "the key is that you can establish them for only 25 percent of what it would cost to do it on your own."

Valdivia agreed. "We are looking at agroforestry as an economic opportunity rather than just an environmental strategy," she said. "We're looking for ways that small farms can be viable in the context of globalization. If agroforestry practices are commercially viable and environmentally friendly, will there be policies in place that are within the reach of small farmers?"

Through the MU Center for Agroforestry, Godsey has recently published a 24-page booklet, "Funding Incentives for Agroforestry in Missouri," that explains federal and state programs in detail. To obtain a free copy, call Christa Jennette at 573-882-9866, or email her at jennettec@missouri.edu.

Forrest Rose is an information specialist with the University of Missouri Extension Service. (573-882-6843; RoseF@missouri.edu.