What is it?

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.


Benefits: 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.


Alley cropping enterprises:

  • Hardwood timber or nut trees: Hardwoods such as black walnut or pecan may be combined with annual crops such as corn or soybeans.

  • Forage crops can be cultivated between tree rows for harvest or livestock grazing, or shrubs palatable to livestock can be grown for fodder, e.g. tagasaste.

  • Possible alley crops also include specialty crops, e.g. herbal or medicinal, perennials such as conifers for Christmas trees, and even nursery stock, e.g. using the Pot-in-Pot system.

  • Combine specialty crops with conventional field crops: Another alternative is to plant rows of perennial specialty crops within a field of tall field crops such as corn to diversify income while maintaining annual crop production.

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Alley Cropping Contacts

Dr. Scott Josiah
University of Nebraska
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