In a recently published scientific article, results from 22 European organic field trials are analysed. The researchers demonstrate the advantages of within-crop diversification for intensified and more environmental-friendly crop production.
Sustainable, ecological and eco-functional intensification are concepts aiming to increase the crop production while reducing climate change and negative environmental impacts. The target is a more efficient use of natural resources, including land, and enhanced reliance on ecosystem services to reduce inputs.
Intercropping, the simultaneous cultivation of at least two species within the same field is common in grassland and forage production systems, but is much less frequently used in arable cropping systems where annual crops are harvested at full maturity.
A team of scientists from the Cropping Systems Ecology group at SLU Alnarp, INRA in Toulouse, France, and Roskilde University, Denmark, has analyzed 22 European intercropping field experiments with grain legumes (faba bean or pea) and cereals (barley or wheat) in organic systems. On average, intercropping increased yields by 27 percent compared to if the two species were grown separately as sole crops. Additional benefits from intercropping included significantly higher protein concentrations of intercropped cereals compared to cereal sole crop, and improved weed control compared to sole crop grain legumes.
The consortium concludes that within-crop diversification by intercropping is a strong tool for enhanced yields and thereby reduced environmental impacts per unit of edible product. Intercropping has thus strong potential for intensification of both organic and conventional crop production. A roadmap is proposed for future research and innovation, e.g. the analysis of lock-in effects and barriers within food systems that make limit farmers’ possibilities to produce and sell diversified crops.