Multifunctional Woody Polyculture: Field Trial

The Multifunctional Woody Polyculture (MWP) project aims to develop a research infrastructure that evaluates the potential of productive agroforestry systems as a transformative solution to meet growing demand for healthy foods while advancing the sustainability of food production in the United States and abroad.  This research site was inspired by work being done at the original MWP pilot study.



What is a woody polyculture?

A woody polyculture is a specific agroforestry system that focuses on multiple species of woody crops as the basis for agricultural production.



What are the potential benefits?

  • Higher overall productivity compared with component monocultures
  • Increased biodiversity both above- and below-ground
  • Increased soil stability and nutrient cycling
  • Greater carbon sequestration
  • Greater economic profitability




1. Compare performance and yield of woody polyculture treatments of increasing levels of diversity.
2. Determine the ecosystem services delivered by woody polyculture compared to conventional agriculture and native ecosystems.
4. Examine the barriers and drivers of adoption of woody polyculture systems.
5. Characterize the life cycle environmental implications of a transition to multifunctional woody polyculture systems for food production.

Intercropped Chestnuts and Black Currants

Video describing research at the MWP Field site

Research Site

Established: May 2015

Woody Species: Chestnut, black currant, hybrid hazelnut, apple, amelanchier, American hazelnut, aronia, elderberry, pawpaw, pecan, persimmon, plum

Alley Composition: Pasture mix

Annual Avg. Weather: 52˚F, 40in precip, USDA zone 5b/6a

Description: The MWP is a 30-acre University of Illinois agricultural research site consisting of over 12,000 woody plants. The research site has 7 system level treatments, ranging from simple monocultures to diverse woody polcyultures. This acts as an alternative option for agriculture in the Midwest, initially targeting areas that are not best suited for row crops. We are comparing a variety of systems (mixtures of trees, shrubs, and forage or hay) that yield multiple food and fuel products including fruits and nuts.

UIUC Professors

Sarah Taylor Lovell, [Lead PI] Associate Professor of Crop Sciences.

Nick Paulson, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics.

Michelle Wander, Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

Wendy Yang, Assistant Professor of Plant Biology

Jeremy Guest, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Bruce Branham, Professor of Crop Sciences


Students and Technicians

Tito Lavaire, academic hourly researcher and technician

William Eddy, Postdoctoral Associate in Plant Biology. Read more about William

Ronald Revord, Ph.D. student in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

Kevin Wolz, Ph.D. student in the Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology

Diana Kapanzhi, Ph.D. student in Environmental Engineering

Eric Wolske, Masters student in Crop Sciences

Matthew Wilson, Masters student in Crop Sciences

Erik Stanek, Masters student in Crop Sciences

This project received seed funding from the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) in 2014, which supports actionable research efforts in secure and sustainable agriculture.

Click to enlarge image