A Moment of Science

Farmers And Trees

Who has been cutting down the trees? Hint: It's not who you think!

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Photo: ShootsNikon (flickr)

The trees in the distance are used to help this farm work. Farmers make sure to use trees to their advantage.

For a long time now, decades probably, there has been talk about deforestation. But who, exactly, is cutting down all the trees?

One idea is that there are farmers clearing land for planting crops.

Is It Farmers?

Farmers do need to clear space to plant their fields.  But actually, farmers around the world have just as much to do with planting trees as they do with chopping them down.

A study using satellite pictures looked at around 2.5 billion acres of farmland around the world.  It found that about ten-percent of it is covered by trees.  That’s an area twice as large as the Amazon rain forest.

So, why would farmers want so many trees taking up space?  Don’t they want their fields to be as large as possible?

Trees Are Useful

Yes, generally.  But other studies have found that trees are very useful for farmers. They help keep soil healthy.  And they can be harvested to feed animals, provide timber and wood for burning, and produce fruit.  Trees also help prevent soil erosion and improve groundwater quality.

Profit, Profit, Profit

That means farmers grow trees because they’re profitable.

Farmers have to make a living, and if trees made it harder to make a profit then farmers wouldn’t keep them around.

Of course, deforestation is still a big problem. Many farmers, especially in the Brazilian rain forest, cut down thousands of trees to make way for fields.  But in many other places, farms and forests work together.

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