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Diversify With Trees And Shrub Crops

Bring more value to your land by growing nuts and fruit within the rows of field crops. Sarah Taylor Lovell is an associate professor of landscape agroecology at the University of Illinois. She says tree species could include chestnut, hazelnut, pecan, paw paw, and cider apples. Berry shrubs such as black currant and aronia berry would mingle within the trees. One option for incorporating food trees and shrubs within row crops is called an “alley cropping” system.

"You’d plant the trees in rows and have enough distance between those rows for the equipment to fit. So basically, you determine that alley width based on the equipment that’s available. Maybe it’s 30’, it may be 60’, but then within that row is when you have the diversity of different trees and shrubs," says Lovell. "So, that’s kind of the end goal."

Of course, there are concerns on how weed management and pesticide use would fit into this type of system.  Farmers accustomed to traditional row crops may also be daunted by the long wait for nut trees to be productive. For the near-term, Lovell says a more feasible approach would include planting the perennial crops on marginal-quality land.

"Like areas of the farm that are lower-yielding because they might be wet spots, or erodible soils or riparian zones, and starting in those areas and seeing if farmers would be willing to transition," she says. "A lot of farmers have that odd field that’s a smaller, irregularly-shaped field where they’re already having trouble managing their equipment in there."

Learn more on how food crops can diversify your farm

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