INTERCROPPING: WHY SOME FARMERS TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Intercropping is defined simply as growing two or more crop types on one field. The practice of intercropping has actually been around since farming began. Modernization of farming equipment has changed our farming practices into what they are today, which is largely mono-cropping. Mono-cropping is planting only one crop on a field that was adapted with the intention of maximizing the amount of seeds you could plant on one field and in a shorter period of time. Looking back on it today, it seems our ancestors were on to something, as there still a lot of value held in the practice of intercropping.
BENEFITS OF INTERCROPPING
- Diversity and stability of fields.
- Reduction in chemical/fertilizer application.
- A complementary sharing of plant resources, such as Nitrogen from N fixing plants.
- Weed suppression, and a reduction in susceptibility to insects and disease.
There are three different ways farmers can choose to intercrop:
1. MIXED INTERCROPPING
Where two or more crop types are mixed together, seeded together, and harvested together.
For example, wheat, gram and mustard are grown as mixed rabi crops in dry regions of Northern India. It has two advantages. The loss of soil nitrogen is replenished by gram which fixes atmospheric nitrogen and secondly, if the wheat crop does not succeed, the farmer gets some return from gram and mustard.
2. ROW/STRIP INTERCROPPING
When two or more crop types are alternated in rows or sections. The most common crop choices for strip cropping are closely sown crops such as hay, wheat, or other forages which are alternated with strips of row crops, such as corn, soybeans, cotton, or sugar beets
3. RELAY CROPPING
Sometimes termed “fast crop/slow crop”, relay cropping is planting a second crop type into an existing standing crop once it’s reached the reproductive stage. e.g maize-cowpea relay cropping