There are six alley cropping systems, each of about 2 ha, in which rows of trees (‘production hedges’), orientated North-South, are separated by cropping alleys. The cropping alleys contain the organic rotation, which means that, for example, in Willow Pond, 2010 is potato year. This will be followed by clover ley (2011/12), then cereals (2013), clover ley (2014/15), then back to potatoes in 2016. Each of the other fields is at a different stage of the same rotation. This helps to maximise fertility and minimise carry-over and spread of weeds, pests and diseases.
Integration of trees helps the cropping process by increasing soil organic matter (tree roots and leaf litter), increasing nutrient cycling, improving soil and atmospheric water relations, providing shade and shelter for plants animals and man together with a large and varied habitat for wildlife, from microorganisms to birds and mammals. The trees are also productive in terms of timber for building and other purposes, energy (all of the water and space heating for the house comes from the farm’s chipped willow and hazel) and fruit and nuts. The crops help the trees in reducing tree-to-tree competition, so that tree productivity is higher per tree than in more dense woodland or forest.
The wheat that we grow is based mainly on three populations in which every plant is different from every other plant. This is precisely the opposite from conventional monocultures in which every plant in a field is identical to every other. In this way, our populations are considerably more resilient to environmental variation and climate change. We are being funded over 12 years by Defra for this research project.
Our wheat yields are double the yields obtained generally in the 1940′s and 50′s, but significantly less than those produced by our conventional neighbour. However, that wheat needs 20 oil-based chemicals applied every year and the land produces nothing else. At Wakelyns, we use no inputs at all (except for tractor diesel) and the land also produces tree growth and a wide range of biodiversity; indeed, here, there is a considerable net gain in terms of carbon capture and storage. In our view, this is the way to permanent agriculture.