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.
Or, Alley cropping is a farming system in which arable crops are grown in alleys formed by trees or shrubs established mainly to hasten soil fertility restoration and enhance soil productivity.
The main objective of alley cropping is to get green and palatable fodder from hedge rows in the dry season and produce reasonable quantum of grain and Stover in the alleys during the rainy/cropping season. some others given below
1. To Reduces soil erosion when it is established in sloping areas thereby improving water quality. 2. To Improves crop performance from the increased soil productivity from the added organic matter as well as from the microclimate that is created from the crop and tree shading effect. From the improved shading, water use efficiency by plants in increased. 3. To Reduces the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Weeds are better controlled as well as the increased nutrient flow improving the soil fertility without the use of fertilizers. 4. To Minimizes nitrogen leaching hence improving water quality. Nitrogen leached beyond the cropping root zone is often captured by the deeper tree root systems. 5. To Promotes biodiversity.
6. To Maximizes use of the land.
Types of Alley cropping
Three versions of alley cropping system, based on different objectives are
1. Forage alley cropping.
2. Forage cum mulch alley cropping.
3. Forage cum pole alley cropping. In all the three systems crops are grown in the alleys and forage is obtained from lopping of hedge rows. Two components from an essential part of the system these are a) at the hedge rows b) the crop grown in the alley.
Design of Alley Cropping System
Before beginning this endeavor, a land owner must consider a few things
• Amount of rainfall. • Compatibility of trees and shrubs with crops to make sure competition for water, nutrients, and light is minimized.
• Spacing between and within rows.
• Sun Direction.
• Maintenance requirements & available equipment.
1. 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 longterm investments in trees. 2. 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 crop lands may be converted to higher value wood lands. 3. 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. 4. Wildlife: Alley cropping increases the biodiversity of crop land which creates new habitat for wildlife. 5. It provides higher total biomass per unit area than arable crops alone.
6. It utilizes off season precipitation which otherwise would go waste.
7. It provides green fodder during the lean period of fodder availability. 8. It provides additional employment opportunities during the off season. 9. When planted along the contours on a sloppy land, it provides a barrier to run off water holds the silt and conserves moisture.