Alley Cropping

Agroforestry, discussed briefly in a previous Nature Notes, can be described as a blending of agriculture and forestry. Agroforestry is designed to maximize yield/benefit from the land, especially in areas with limited space. Alley cropping, one of the six accepted agroforestry practices, is the integration of trees or shrubs with traditional farm grown crops. This allows the farmer to produce short-term and long-term crops at the same time. Similar to investing in stock, Alley cropping enables the farmer to put his/her assets in a few different areas, providing multiple income streams. Similar to diversification, instead of investing money in only one stock, this approach provides one or more crops to fall back on should one fail.

Alley cropping designs can vary slightly, but they generally have similar layouts. Trees are usually planted in rows at least 30 feet apart (or greater,) with crops grown between them. As an example, a more commonly planted combination in the United States is corn and black walnut. The corn can be planted and harvested yearly in late summer or early fall. Subsequently, black walnuts can be collected in late fall, while no crops are present on the field. Lastly, after 30 or more years, the black walnut trees can be harvested for their wood.

This system has two main disadvantages. When growing crops such as corn in between rows of trees, shade from the trees can be cast between rows. This can cause a reduction in growth for the corn. This can be mostly overcome during the planning process, as sun angle should be considered at that time. However, if not laid out correctly, it may be difficult to grow corn between narrow rows. Think of a traditional farm field and how crops along the edge have reduced growth due to shade. The other disadvantage is that if trees are being grown for timber, it can take some time for them to reach maturity. This may be undesirable to some as it can tie up money for a few decades.

Article by the FCFCDB

Nature Note for 2/17/2019