Alley cropping is the cultivation of food, forage or specialty crops between rows of trees. It is a larger version of intercropping or companion planting conducted over a longer time scale. Alley cropping can provide profitable opportunities for row crop farmers, hardwood timber growers, nut growers and Christmas tree growers.
Alley cropping benefits both humans and the environment
- Income diversification. Crop production during the years before nut trees come into bearing or hardwood timber is harvested creates cash flow and diversifies farm income, thereby improving the return on long-term investments in trees.
- Marginal land improvement. By planting rows of nut or timber trees on land where annual crop production is low due to erosion or other limitations, marginal croplands may be converted to higher value woodlands.
- Shelter. Rows of trees reduce wind speed, thereby controlling wind erosion. They also create sheltered microclimates that improves the yield and quality of crops growing in the alleys.
- Wildlife. Alley cropping increases the biodiversity of cropland which creates new habitat for wildlife.