One of the five basic principles that are the foundation of improving soil health and functionality is plant diversity. Plant diversity leads to more biodiversity in the soil, benefiting the soil food web; which in turn can help improves moisture infiltration and nutrient cycling, while reducing disease and pests.
By in large, producers are growing more crops and have implemented more diverse crop rotations these days, but to add more diversity some producers are starting to look at intercropping. Intercropping is basically growing two or more crops together.
There are a couple of potential advantages to intercropping. One is that an intercrop of two or more crops growing together may use the resources of light, water, and nutrients more efficiently than a single crop, which can improve yields and income. Another is that crop mixtures frequently have less pest problems. For example, flax and chickpeas have been a common intercrop as there is typically less disease pressure on the chickpeas when grown as an intercrop with flax as compared a monocrop chickpeas
Although there are advantages to intercropping there are also challenges. Intercropping systems are going to require more planning and additional management. These may range from selecting varieties of the crops to be intercropped that complement each other to weed control with a mix of crops. Plus, the intercrop will require more labor, needing to be separated either at or following harvest.
Like anything, if you want to try intercropping, test it first on a relatively small area and start with something easy. For example, canola and peas or peaola has been a very popular intercrop. This will allow you to evaluate whether it fits into the overall management your system and whether benefits outweigh the extra planning, management and labor.
If you’d like to learn more about intercropping, there is a very good opportunity coming up which is MonDak Pulse Day that will be held on February 11th, 2021 at the Williston Area Recreation Center (ARC) on the campus of WSC from 9:00 am to 12:45 pm. As part of this year’s program, staff from the Williston Research Extension Center while provide an update on research being conducted with intercropping follow by a panel of local producer who will share their experiences with various intercrops and try to answer any questions you may have.
This year’s Pulse Day will have a hybrid format with options to participate either in person or virtually via Zoom but either way, pre-registration is request. More information on the complete Pulse Day program along with information on pre-registering can be found at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/willistonrec/events/mondak-pulse-day-2020