Multifunctional Landscape Analysis and Design

Agroforestry for Food

Awarded by Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE). Lead PI: Sarah Taylor Lovell. Award: $400,000 direct funds.
University of Illinois Research Team (participating departments):
Dr. Sarah Taylor Lovell (Crop Sciences): Landscape Multifunctionality
Dr. Nick Paulson (Agricultural & Consumer Economics): Agricultural Economics & Policy
Dr. Jeremy Guest (Civil & Environmental Engineering): Life Cycle Assessment & Water Quality
Dr. Wendy Yang (Plant Biology & Geology): Global Change & Biogeochemistry
Dr. Michelle Wander (Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences): Agroecosystem Management
Dr. Bruce Branham (Crop Sciences): Sustainable Local Food Systems  

Collaborating Organizations:
Agroecology & Sustainable Agriculture Program (
Savanna Institute (
Sustainable Student Farm (

The overall goal of our proposed work is to develop a research infrastructure that evaluates the potential of multifunctional woody polyculture as a transformative system of agriculture to meet growing demand for healthy foods while advancing the sustainability of food production systems in the United States and abroad.  Woody polyculture cropping systems offer a sustainable solution because of their unique advantages over conventional annual crop systems: (1) perennial growth habit allows for carbon storage and efficient utilization of resources, (2) integration of tree crops supports vertical layering of production, and (3) a mixed community of different fruit and nut species diversifies products and increases financial resilience. We will establish UIUC as a global leader in woody polyculture research by developing critical physical infrastructure and by achieving five primary objectives that will leverage complementary approaches to elucidate the economic, environmental, and social value of these systems.

The core of our approach is to establish a new woody polyculture research farm to study the transition from conventional agriculture and to serve as the physical infrastructure for long-term studies to attract future funding. The research farm will include replicated 1-acre plots to compare several woody polyculture treatments with conventional agriculture and with a restored native ecosystem.  In addition, we will conduct field surveys of established woody polyculture farms in the Midwest to quantify ecosystem services compared with conventional agriculture farms to determine environmental impacts. For the economic analysis, we will survey farmers using perennial agricultural techniques to assess and compare economic returns to those for established annual systems, and conventional farmers will be surveyed to understand the barriers to adoption. Finally, we will develop a living life cycle assessment (LCA) platform for perennial agriculture systems focusing on global warming potential (GWP), water quantity and quality impacts, and the embodied energy of food products.  The combination of new physical infrastructure (long-term research plots) and new knowledge and analytical tools developed by this project will provide a strong foundation to attract future research funding from a diverse group of funding agencies and foundations.