Agforestry Design Tool (TM)
Reviewed by Timothy Watkins
The Permanent Agriculture Resources and Forest Agriculture Research Management Center, led by Craig Elevitch, recently released their Agroforestry Design Tool™ for Beta testing and held a series of webinars [http://edn.link/qffwe4] guiding users through the tool. Elevitch has been a longtime advocate for agroforestry as director of Agroforestry Net, has authored multiple books and resources on agroforestry in the Pacific Islands, and serves as editor of The Overstory, a monthly journal dedicated to agroforestry. The online Agroforestry Design Tool™ allows users to rapidly generate complex agroforestry planting arrangements and visualize how these planting arrangements are likely to develop over time. Most of the planting patterns draw from traditional Pacific Island agroforestry systems or simplifications of those planting arrangements. Users can easily create an account, enter climate and soil parameters for their site (to filter out inappropriate crops), then select a planting arrangement and desired crops. The tool categorizes crops based on the particular stratum (layer of the canopy) that each occupies within the system, and on each crop’s permanence. An important feature of the design tool is the ability to select medium-term crops that will yield food for the first several years (1-4) as the agroforest is developing. At year 4, those medium-term crops are removed from the system to allow more space and resources for the long-term crops to develop.
The Agroforestry Design Tool™ generates two-dimensional visualizations of your agroforestry planting at years 3 and 10. These visualizations help project the canopy development and potential interactions of the crops as the system matures. A unique feature of the tool is the animation generator that allows you to view the development of your design over a 15-year period, including the removal of the medium-term crops and fluctuations in tree canopy based on the pruning parameters that you chose. The animations visually represent the expected growth and development, canopy density, and plant succession within the system over a 15-year period. Lastly, the tool generates a PDF report that includes the initial planting layout/diagram; 3- and 10-year visualizations of spatial arrangement of crops; crop lists; and overhead and side views of the planting arrangement.
In the online tool, hovering your cursor over a plant will display the common and scientific name. However, the report does not have labels for individual plants. You would need to write the names into the planting diagram or create a simple code for the different plants and use that to label plants in the diagram. While some plant species available for use in the design tool are unique to the Pacific Island region, most are appropriate for agroforestry systems throughout the humid and subhumid tropics. Also, several generic plant profiles can be selected to represent species not available in the tool’s plant database. The designers plan to expand the species selection tool and add additional planting patterns to fit other regions, especially drier climates and temperate regions.
Overall, the Agroforestry Design Tool™ provides a simple, efficient way to generate complex agroforestry planting arrangements using a diverse suite of tropical fruits, nuts, timber trees, perennial vegetables, vines, and root crops. The visualizations and animations add a unique dimension, allowing you to “see the future" of your design and to modify it so you can maximize the potential for production and minimize negative tree-crop interactions (such as competition). A Beta version is free on the AgroforestryX website (https://www.agroforestryx.com/). Elevitch and his team would appreciate any feedback you might have as they continue to improve and develop this unique tool.
Elevitch, C.R., and N. Logan. 2019–2021. Agroforestry Design Tool™—AgroforestryX.com. Hawaii. agroforestryx.com.