Do you like your soil and want to take care of it? So you have undoubtedly heard of intercropping. Before going into details, let’s talk about nomenclature to clarify the difference between interlayers, cover crops, and green manures. Later in this article the difference between intercropping and mixed farming will be cleared.
An intercropping crop is a cover crop that is sown at the same time as the main crop and therefore rubs shoulders with it during its growth;
A cover crop is a crop grown either as a catch (before or after the main crop) or as an intercrop (at the same time as the main crop);
Green manure is a cover crop intended to be incorporated into the soil.
The big difference is the sowing period (before, during, or after), but the goal is to colonize the soil with roots to improve its health. Intercrops (and their alter egos) are credited with many properties: increased yields, reduced production costs, improved soil (structure, composition, biological activity), nutrient management (recycling and addition of ‘nutrients), weed and disease control, and mitigation of environmental impacts associated with annual crops.
Choosing the right mix of species according to your needs and the sowing period is essential to achieving such results. Thus, it will be preferable to favor mixtures complementary to the main crop to avoid competition. Indeed, intercropping should not hinder the emergence of the growth of the main crop. The most commonly used crops are grasses and legumes such as ryegrass, crimson clover, field peas, and fall rye.
Intercropping is suitable for different types of production. In alley crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, orchards), they can take the form of permanent grassing. The main goal is to improve the bearing capacity of uncultivated alleys, most often with grasses. There are also intercropping systems with deciduous trees, not to be confused with windbreaks which are also alternating rows of trees and annual crops. Windbreaks are made up of bands (several rows of trees), while intercropping is more often distributed in single rows.
- Promotes natural enemies and pollinators
- Protects the topsoil against erosion and loss of fertility
- Increases organic matter (depending on the biomass produced) and improves soil structure
- Mobilizes nutrients on the surface
- Fills a significant portion of the nitrogen requirements following an intercalary clover
Critical differences between mixed farming and intercropping
The difference between mixed cultivation and intercropping is described in the points below:
- When two or more crops are planted and grown simultaneously in a respective area, this cultivation pattern is known as mixed cultivation. On the other hand, intercropping is a cultivation method in which two crops are sown and grown simultaneously, on the same land, according to a defined pattern.
- In a specific order, the seeds are sown in separate rows in intercropping. On the other hand, such an order is not followed in the case of mixed cultures.
- The seeds are correctly combined and mixed in the field in the case of a mixed crop. Conversely, no mixture of this type is made in intercropping before sowing them.
- The same fertilizers and pesticides are applied to all crops in mixed cropping. On the other hand, specific fertilizers and pesticides are used for each crop in mixed cropping.
- Mixed cultivation is used to reduce the risk of crop failure due to adverse weather conditions. On the contrary, the associated crops help increase the crop’s productivity.
- There is competition between the crops sown in polyculture, while in association, such competition does not exist between the crops.