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Alley Cropping

Alley cropping is defined as the planting of rows of trees and/or shrubs to create alleys within which agricultural or horticultural crops are produced. The trees may include valuable hardwood veneer or lumber species; fruit, nut or other specialty crop trees/shrubs; or desirable softwood species for wood fiber production.

Rows of chestnuts and raspberries.
Alley cropping system consisting of chestnuts and raspberries. (Photo courtesy of Tracey Coulter)
Alley cropping system consisting of pine trees and cotton
Alley cropping system consisting of pine trees and cotton. (Photo courtesy of Shibu Jose)
Rows of chestnuts and winter wheat, a harvester in the background harvesting the wheat.
Alley cropping system consisting of chestnuts and winter wheat. (Photo courtesy of Mike Gold)

Alley cropping can vary from simple systems such as an annual grain rotation between timber tree species to complex, multilayered systems that can produce a diverse range of agricultural products. Alley cropping systems are sometimes called intercropping, especially in tropical areas. It is especially attractive to producers interested in growing multiple crops on the same acreage to improve whole-farm yield. Growing a variety of crops in close proximity to each other can create significant benefits to producers, such as improved crop production and microclimate benefits and help them manage risk. Alley cropping systems change over time. As trees and shrubs grow, they influence the light, water, and nutrient regimes in the field. These interactions are what sets alley cropping apart from more common monocropping systems.

Alley cropping diagram showing alley, crop, and tree rows.
Common terminology used when discussing alley cropping systems are alley, alley crop, tree row, and within row spacing. (USDA National Agroforestry Center Illustration)

Some producers plan alley cropping systems to provide additional functions that support and enhance other aspects of their operation. For example, a livestock producer might grow crops that supply fodder, bedding, or mast crops for their livestock. Some producers may be interested in how alley cropping can support soil health. Other producers may want to produce biomass for on-farm use. Organic producers may choose tree species that fix nitrogen.

Farmers may also use alley cropping systems to transition from one farming system to another. The annual crops grown in alleys can provide short-term annual income until the trees are mature. The versatile nature of this practice allows a producer to react to markets, labor limitations and changing goals. Like all agroforestry systems, alley cropping systems should be considered as part of the whole farm operation.

Information Sheets

  • Infosheet

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    Can Alley Cropping Support Soil Health?

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  • Infosheet

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    Can Alley Cropping Provide More Farming Options?

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  • Infosheet

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    How Can Agroforestry Help Landowners Adapt To Increased Rain Intensity?

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    How Can Agroforestry Help Pollinators?

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    How Does Agroforestry Help Crop Pollination?

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    How Can Agroforestry Practices And Approaches Support Green Infrastructure?

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  • Infosheet

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    How Can Agroforestry Help Landowners Adapt To Climate Change?

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  • Infosheet

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    ¿Qué Es Agroforestería?

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  • Infosheet

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    What Is Alley Cropping?

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  • Infosheet

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    What Are Agroforestry's Income Opportunities

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  • Infosheet

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    What Is Agroforestry?

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Brochures

Inside Agroforestry

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    So Many Trees To Choose From

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    New And Beginning Farmers

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Why Agroforestry? Part 2

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    Learn How You Can Use Agroforestry To Help Pollinators

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    25th Anniversary

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Finding Agroforestry In The 2014 Farm Bill

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Locally Sourced

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Helping Wildlife Helps You!

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Many Paths To Success

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Extreme Weather

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Alley Cropping: A Relic From The Past Or A Bridge To The Future?

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Now Is The Time For Agroforestry!

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Beyond The Fence Line

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Diamonds In The Rough

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Water Quantity/quality: Half-full Or Half-empty Of What

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Northern Exposure: Agroforestry In Canada

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Agroforestry: Part Of A Sustainable Future For Agriculture

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    2002 Farm Bill

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Getting Buffers On The Ground: A Group Effort

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Alley Cropping: 20/20 Vision For Farming's Future

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Spring 2000

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Fall/Winter 1999-2000

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Winter 1996

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    Fall 1996

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Spring 1995

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    Summer 1995

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Fall 1992

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Agroforestry Notes

  • Agroforestry Note

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    Alley Cropping: An Agroforestry Practice

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    An Overview Of Agroforestry

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Research

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    High-resolution Land Cover Of Kansas

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  • Research

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    Diseases Of Trees In The Great Plains

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  • Research

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    A Win-win On Agricultural Lands: Creating Wildlife Habitat Through Agroforestry

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  • Research

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    Analyzing The Uncertainties In Use Of Forest-derived Biomass Equations For Open-grown Trees In Agricultural Land

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  • Research

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    A Role For Agroforestry In Forest Restoration In The Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley

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  • Research

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    Branching Out: Agroforestry As A Climate Change Mitigation And Adaptation Tool For Agriculture

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  • Research

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    Enhancing Ecosystem Services: Designing For Multifunctionality

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  • Research

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    The Use Of Forest-derived Specific Gravity For The Conversion Of Volume To Biomass For Open-grown Trees On Agricultural Land

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  • Research

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    Carbon Sequestration In Agricultural Lands Of The United States

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  • Research

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    Creatively Communicating Conservation Complexity

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  • Research

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    Filling The Gap: Improving Estimates Of Working Tree Resources In Agricultural Landscapes

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    Agroforestry: Working Trees For Sequestering Carbon On Agricultural Lands

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  • Research

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    Buffer And Vegetative Filter Strips

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  • Research

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    Managing Agricultural Landscapes For Environmental Quality: Strengthening The Science Base

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    Perennial Crops For Bio-fuels And Conservation

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    Developing And Extending Sustainable Agriculture: A New Social Contract

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  • Research

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    Visualizing Agroforestry Alternatives Or Pixel This!

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  • Research

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    Tool Time: Melding Watershed And Site Goals On Private Lands

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    Visualizing Food And Farm

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    Picture This

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  • Research

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    Agroforestry-Working Trees For Sequestering Carbon On Ag-Lands

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  • Research

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    Inventorying Trees In Agricultural Landscapes: Towards An Accounting Of Working Trees

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  • Research

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    Computer-based Tools For Decision Support In Agroforestry: Current State And Future Needs

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  • Research

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    CBD Technical Series No. 10 - Interlinkages Between Biological Diversity And Climate Change

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    Agroforestry And GIS: Achieving Land Productivity And Environmental Protection

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  • Research

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    Alteration Of Soil Water Content Consequent To Root-pruning At A Windbreak/crop Interface In Nebraska, USA

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    Agroforestry: Mapping The Way With GIS

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    Ecobelts: Reconnecting Agriculture And Communities - Case Studies

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    Ecobelts: Reconnecting Agriculture And Communities

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    An Ecological Foundation For Temperate Agroforestry

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  • Research

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    Perspective: Agroforestry And Sustainability: Making A Patchwork Quilt

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More Publications

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    Guide To USDA Agroforestry Research Funding Opportunities

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    Inspirations For Creating A Long-Term Agricultural Lease For Agroforestry: A Workbook

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    Marketing Specialty Forest Products

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    Edible Woody Landscapes

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    Productive Conservation: Growing Specialty Forest Products In Agroforestry Plantings.

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    Hybrid Hazelnuts: An Agroforestry Opportunity

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    Profitable Farms And Woodlands

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    RC & D Survey Of Agroforestry Practices

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    Agroforestry In The United States: Research And Technology Transfer Needs For The Next Millenium

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    Integrating Agroforestry Into USDA Programs

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    Working Trees Coloring Book

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https://www.fs.usda.gov/nac/practices/alley-cropping.php