Ecological and Economic Impacts of Transition to an Apple/Hay Agroforestry System

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $24,818.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G320-21-W8613
Grant Recipient: Raising Cane Ranch
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Nichlos Pate
Raising Cane Ranch

Information Products


  • Agronomic: hay
  • Fruits: apples


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: alley cropping
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research

    Proposal summary:

    Very little information around the costs and benefits of agroforestry for production farmers in Western Washington exists. Studies from other areas of the country (Mungai, et al 2006; Garrett and McGraw, 2000) and anecdotal evidence suggest that applying alley cropping to hay production could improve soil ecology, reduce erosion, and reduce drought and flood risks (Schoeneberger, et al 2012). These benefits may also coincide with improved yields or nutritional value for primary crops (Wolz, 2017). However, without regionally specific information that addresses the challenges and benefits of adoption, agricultural professionals are unable to confidently recommend alley cropping as a best management practice (BMP), and producers are unlikely to adopt it. This project looks to address the research question of “What are the ecological and economic impacts of an apple/hay agroforestry system in Western Washington?”


    This project will examine the costs of transitioning conventional hay production to a cider/hay alley cropping system, look at changes in hay yield and nutritional value, and examine the soil health/ecology changes to fields in alley cropping. The goal of answering this research question is to provide farmers interested in transitioning to agroforestry or incorporating tree crops into hay, as well as agricultural professionals, with essential cost-benefit information for decision making. By disseminating results through field days and web media, Snohomish Conservation District (SCD) and Washington State University (WSU) aim to provide local producers with a key BMP to address the threats of climate change, increase productivity, and improve the health of the agroecosystem.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives

    Objective 1:   Measure the costs of establishing and managing a cider apple/hay alley cropping system 

    Objective 2: Quantify the effects of alley cropping on hay yields and quality

    Objective 3: Determine soil health impacts of conversion to apple/hay alley cropping 

    Objective 4: Collaboratively share knowledge and results among current and potential producer practitioners, agricultural professionals, and scientists

    Educational Objectives

    1. Share evidenced-based research on the agroecological and economic effects of alley cropping with farmers, agricultural professionals, and the general public.
    2. Develop alley cropping farm planning and management tools for transitions to agroforestry systems

    3. Foster collaborative discussion around agricultural resilience BMPs

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.