Skip to main content

Goal: Apply Knowledge Globally Trees + crops = climate resilience?

Alley cropping is an agroforestry practice where crops grow in alleys by rows of trees. The method can mitigate financial risk to producers under future scenarios where floods or droughts become more common, as new research reports. The research provides key information to policy makers and agricultural producers who may be considering alley cropping.

Alley cropping is the production of annual crops in alleys between rows of trees. Here, cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) grows between rows of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). USDA National Agroforestry Center photo by Shibu Jose.

Pecan trees and cotton, chestnut trees and raspberry bushes, or other tree species growing alongside crops—all are examples of alley cropping. Alley cropping combines rows of trees with alleys of other crops, usually annuals. Crop production in alley crop systems can be higher, and alley crops can have other ecological benefits. However, little is known about the financial viability of such a system.

Researchers at the USDA Forest Service and West Virginia University created a computer simulation to model potential financial risk and returns for alley cropping and compared this to traditional commodity row cropping and managed forestry. The team explored various hypothetical scenarios of climate, management, and policy.

Alley cropping reduces financial risk under future scenarios with increased frequency of floods or droughts. Management of alley cropping with wider, 80-foot alleys, and flexible timber rotation periods produces stronger financial returns than narrower alleys and fixed rotation periods. However, current agricultural policy strongly favors traditional production of commodity row crops. If alley cropping were to receive payments for carbon sequestered in the trees, it would reduce this preferential policy treatment somewhat.

Download the ALLEY Model code for MATLAB.