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New Agroforestry Research and Demonstration Site Opens at the University of Maine

This Spring, the University of Maine in Orono and USDA Northeast Climate Hub launched a new site for agroforestry research and demonstration. The site will showcase the potential benefits and challenges of an alley cropping system in the Northeast.

Alley cropping is the intentional integration of perennial crops (plants that live for more than two years) with annual crops (plants that live for a year or less). And like many other agroforestry practices, it can play a role in on-farm climate resilience. In an alley cropping system, farmers may be able to:

  • Improve soil health
  • Store more carbon in the soil (compared to annual cropping systems)
  • Create additional income streams
  • Provide valuable habitat for pollinators and wildlife
  • Mitigate damaging effects from drought and flooding

The site, which covers 1.27 acres, includes elderberries, hazelnuts, and bush cherries.

These crops were chosen because they can adapt to the Northeast climate, have market potential, can resist common pests and diseases, and need little maintenance once established. The setup of the site includes 30-foot wide rows for perennial crops and 24-foot wide rows for annual crops. The site was previously a cornfield, and was planted with a clover cover crop in 2023. Raised beds were created to improve drainage and loosen the compacted, clay-heavy soil for planting. The size of the mowing and harvesting equipment determined the distance between rows and along the edges of the planting area.

The site map of the new Agroforestry Research and Demonstration Site at The University of Maine

In May, volunteers from the Agroecology Lab at the University of Maine and the USDA Northeast Hub helped plant the site. 

Volunteers were instructed on how to properly plant and care for the crops. Together, they added compost to each new plant and spread aged pine bark mulch over each row to control weeds.

The elderberry varieties planted at the site include Nova, Marge, Johns, Berry Hill, and Adams. Elderberries are somewhat more familiar as a market crop both for growers and buyers than other crops at the site. Elderberries have known health benefits, attract beneficial insects and wildlife, and can grow in less-than-ideal soils. At this site, researchers can study how to grow elderberries in alley cropping systems.

The site also includes five varieties of bush cherries: Valentine, Carmine Jewel, Juliet, and Romeo. All these varieties were developed by Bob Bors at the University of Saskatchewan. While bush cherries are not commonly grown in the Northeast, they are hardy to zone 2 and have few issues with pests or disease. These traits make them an interesting potential addition to the Northeast market. This site will help researchers learn more about how to grow and harvest bush cherries in the Northeast and see if they could be a good crop for commercial farming.

The hazelnuts at the site are a mix of American, Beaked, and European genetics. Hazelnuts could become a commercial crop in the Northeast, but there are some challenges with growing them on a large scale. These challenges include issues with propagation, and a need for genetic improvement. At this site, researchers will try to identify types of hazelnuts that can handle the cold and resist diseases including the Eastern filbert blight.

After the hazelnuts, elderberries, and bush cherries are planted, the rows and alleys will be replanted with a cover crop. This will help control weeds and improve the soil. Installation of an irrigation system in the perennial rows will ensure that the plants are watered enough during establishment, and in times of drought. After the perennials are established, however, they will not always need to be watered. In the future, the irrigation system will also supply water to annual crops planted in the alleys. The irrigation design will also allow researchers to answer questions about change in yield based on water availability.

Once established, this temperate agroforestry research site will show growers how alley cropping methods and markets work. The site will also serve to inspire and teach farmers interested in adopting agroforestry practices into their operations.

If you have questions or are interested in learning more, contact project manager Alaina Ring ( or project supervisor Rachel Schattman (