Fruit trees improve land and productivity

increasing yield on a mixed farm

Woodland Trust
October 2015
Creative Commons Licence
Farmer experience

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Resource explained: 

This case study outlines Devonshire farmer Martyn Bragg’s experience of incorporating alley cropping systems in to his 170-hectare organic mixed farm.

Martyn was keen to increase the shelter on his land in a way that made long-term commercial sense and considered incorporating fruit trees to maximise productivity above and below ground. He explains how integrating trees has complemented the sustainable production of vegetable crops, increasing vegetable yields and providing additional commercial crops.

The case study shares some lessons learned from his first planting scheme that were rectified in the second alley-cropping system he implemented. He now operates a silvo-vegetable system with apple, pear, mulberry, hazel and alder trees providing fruit and nuts, and willow providing coppice for biomass fuel.

It explains the environmental and commercial ways in which Martyn’s farm has benefited from incorporating the trees, including being able to harvest vegetables sooner, improved crop water efficiency and product diversification.

Findings & recommendations: 
  • Integrating fruit trees and/or trees for wood fuel in to existing cropping systems can provide additional market products.
  • Short-term costs are soon offset by long-term benefits.
  • A longer-term commitment can fully realise the benefits of integrating cropping trees into farming systems.
  • Trees offer a viable solution to increasing shelter for crops. They reduce wind speeds, help to warm the soil, bring on early crops, and reduce the effects of drought.
  • Coppice can be used on site as a biomass fuel, reducing energy costs.
  • The deep root structure and leaf litter produced from trees can help improve soil structure and reduce the risk of erosion.
  • Tree understories can attract pollinators and support integrated pest management through providing habitats for beneficial insects.
  • When planting tree alleys, it is important to make sure that they are wide enough for machinery to navigate and will not cause excess shading of crops.
  • Martyn took advantage of Woodland Trust funding and has since worked with them to refine planting designs on his land for maximum benefits, hoping that it will provide other farmers with valuable information.