The benefits of working in this way are manifold. Increased plant diversity makes for greater productivity on a given space. Trees attract and provide habitat for beneficial predators, both insects and bird life. Trees provide greater diversity in microclimate, so you have greater incentive and ability to plant a wider range of crops, increasing diversity further and thus reducing problems with ‘pests‘ and disease. Trees provide crucial on-farm biomass that can be used to increase field fertility (compost and mulch), they pull minerals, and water, up from far deeper than the shallow-rooted annuals can. Significantly, trees act as barriers to stop soil erosion from wind and water, and decrease problems with flooding. Indeed, if more farmers were to implement alleycropping systems, we could put a stop to the now all-too-common weather patterns that have been hammering us with oscillating extremes of floods and droughts — stabilising our regional water cycles. We would also be pulling much more CO2 out of the atmosphere and increasing cloud cover. Alleycropping systems are more resilient, both in terms of environmental factors and economically for the farmer and his community — providing increased and more diverse income opportunities. Trees even create a far more pleasant environment for farm workers, as well as livestock and wildlife. And, trees can also provide forage, fruit, nuts and timber!
In short, alleycropping can go a long way towards restoring balance to the biosphere. When you realise all the benefits, you discover what madness it is that farmers have spent years — at great expense in time, money and energy — clearing their land!
I’d love to hear from readers with broadacre properties who have made experiences with alleycropping. As an aside, last year I accompanied Geoff Lawton on a consultation in Jordan, where he designed an alleycropping system for an enormous farm undergoing transition there.