The Roundup -

Intercropping Pulses and Oilseeds

 

January 31, 2018 | View PDF

Monocrop chickpeas still flowering in low area on the left and intercrop ripening well on the right at South East Research Farm in Redvers, Saskatchewan.

Intercropping is a new farming practice that includes growing a variety of crops together in one field. The purpose of using intercropping is to increase profits and reduce production risk.

There are currently farmers using intercropping in North Dakota, South Dakota, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta. Just in Saskatchewan, there were about 50,000 acres that were used for intercropping in 2017. "Currently intercropping is being practiced on thousands of acres on the northern prairies. It is the beginning of the development of a new production system, so people who want to try it will be doing a lot of their own experimenting," said Research Manager at South East Research Farm in Redvers, Saskatchewan, Lana Shaw.

One of the easiest seed variations to use in intercropping is a type of pea with an oilseed called, Brassica Carinata. Another crop selection is a chickpea-flax combo, which would work well where chickpeas are not usually grown. While choosing a particular crop selection, you will want to use a pulse crop with an oilseed so the large seed is predominant over the small oilseed and can be easily separated. A basic rotary grain cleaner can be used for cleaning the seed; equipment modifications may be needed in order to maintain a one-pass seeding capacity.

Shaw has been working on a variety of intercropping trials since 2012, which puts her in a small club of people with expertise in this area. Shaw said, "Each spring we plant some mixed grain intercrops and each fall we harvest them." Shaw is creating high-value crop combinations for specialty and smaller acreage crops.

Quite a few intercrops of oilseeds and pulses are showing good agronomic and total yield advantages to intercropping. In a lot of cases, this means targeting less competitive crops or trying them in areas where they wouldn't typically be competitive for acres. "For example, growing mustard with a lentil may push both the mustard and the lentil into new production areas. These crop combinations can compete for acres with the dominant crops in the rotation, which makes a longer rotation and more diverse crops profitable and attractive," explained Shaw.

Chickpea-flax intercropping also expands the area of adaptation of chickpea by using up excess moisture and nutrients that would otherwise delay maturity and reduce the quality of the chickpea. There are also indications that it reduces disease pressure. "Brassica Carinata is one of my favorites for intercropping since it doesn't shatter and there are few herbicides that can be used with it. It was very compatible with Fababean in two years of testing at Redvers," said Shaw.

All the research Shaw has conducted, has been supported by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, and provincial and federal governments. Her motivation for the project is to make crop diversity profitable. "On-farm profitability paired with long-term health of the land is the goal. We can't convince growers to use four or six-year rotations if they are losing money on some of those years. It isn't good enough to only have one or two crops that are profitable in a region. We needed to find a way to make crop diversity pay the bills. That was my impetus behind working on intercrops," said Shaw.

Even though complexity during seeding is a logistical challenge for most researchers working on intercropping, Shaw still plans to continue performing research on intercropping trials. She hopes to be able to get some funding for them. Otherwise they will be very small trials with little data collection.

Shaw has been working in pulse agronomy since 1999. So far, she has worked with lentil-mustard, flax-chickpea, pea-mustard, and flax-soybean combinations. To learn more about intercropping and what research she has done and is currently doing with intercropping at the South East Research Farm in Redvers, Saskatchewan, come attend the 65th National Annual Hard Spring Wheat Show hear Shaw speak about "Mixed Grain Intercropping: The Proposition" at 3:00 pm CST on Thursday, February 8th at the Williston Grand Hotel.

 

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