Intercropping: LEAF Investigates…

Here at LEAF, we are involved with a number of research projects, looking at new and innovative Integrated Farm Management approaches. One area we, and our Demonstration Farmers, will be looking into in more detail is Intercropping. What is it? Why use it? What challenges does it address and what mixes to use.  LEAF Technical Assistant, Laura Tippin, explains more…

What is Intercropping?

Intercropping is defined as the cultivation of two or more crops simultaneously within the same field. This can help to provide cash crops with benefits such as improved nitrogen concentrations within the soil from, for example, legumes and clovers. Other mixes can help to reduce pests and diseases by increasing the competition for resources as well as improve soil structure and health, water and nutrient management. 

In conjunction with the DIVERSify project LEAF recently hosted an intercropping workshop at LEAF Demonstration Farm, Overbury Enterprises. We were interested to find out what intercropping mixes were currently being used, what challenges farmers were facing, where more information was required and what the project could do to help.


Participants in the workshop discussed their experiences

Why Intercrop?

Many of the farmers were finding that intercropping enabled more reliable and improved establishment of cash crops. Another motivation was to enable more diversity and greater resilience  through more complex and longer rotations.Intercropping provided others with the opportunity to reduce pesticide and fertiliser use, leading to on-farm cost savings and reduced reliance on external inputs.

Intercropping mixes can help provide nitrogen for cash crops. Jake was pleased with the nodulation on this example

“We need more diversity in the fields, in the hedgerows and across the whole system…. it helps us overcome challenges.” Jake Freestone, Overbury Enterprises, LEAF Demonstration Farmer

Challenges

It had not all been plain sailing however, the workshop also looked at what barriers farmers had encountered. Cost of implementation was the largest barrier identified. The primary concern was associated with machinery required for drilling and harvesting. Other potential costs include storage and additional tools needed for intercropping approaches. Lack of advice and support available to farmers who want to undertake intercropping was another challenge. It was felt that prescriptions or step by step guides to implementing intercropping for farmers and agronomists would be useful.

Termination strategies for intercropping is not always straightforward either. Farmers at the workshop were using frost, ASTROkerb, crimper roller, grazing and other pesticides, but they felt more information would be helpful, especially with the future of glyphosate unclear.

Answers…..DIVERSify!

LEAF, along with a number of other European partners will be addressing some of these challenges and coming up with new and diverse mixes, or Plant Teams, as part of the DIVERSify project. DIVERSify is a four year Horizon 2020 funded project which aims to optimise the performance of intercropping to improve yield stability, reduce pest and disease damage, and enhance resilience in agricultural systems.

Getting Involved - Trials

DIVERSify is seeking farmers to become involved in the project and help solve some of the barriers identified in this workshop in two main ways. The first is to trial their own intercropping approaches and submit basic crop performance data. The second is to establish their own intercropping practises and demonstrate the benefits to others through on-site farm days. Funding of up to €1000 is available to farmers.

We are currently looking for farmers to trial intercropping innovations on farm. If you would like to know more about the DIVERSify project and trials, or apply please contact Laura.Tippin@leafuk.org To get all the latest DIVERSify news and updates and follow the projects progress follow @PlantTeams on twitter and PlantTeams on Facebook. 

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 727284