The Agronomists, Ep 47: Eric Page and Michelle Hubbard on intercropping and relay cropping


If one crop is good, two could be better. Intercropping and relay cropping is gaining momentum in Ontario and Western Canada, in an effort to maximize yield, decrease fertilizer use, and possibly reduce herbicide and fungicide passes.

To explore what the science tells us, we go to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers Eric Page at Harrow, Ont., and Michelle Hubbard at Swift Current, Sask. for this episode of The Agronomists.

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  • Relay cropping: a “braid” of crops
  • Ontario Living Lab works with farms and farmers on their innovations
  • Intercropping: planting both crops at the same time and harvesting at the same time. Challenges galore
  • Michelle has worked with chickpea/flax (especially in the SW), and her focus is pathology. Which is exciting because ascochyta blight is a huge challenge in growing chickpeas (normally dealt with by applying a lot of fungicides)
  • Handy names for chickpea/flax: chax? flickpea?
  • Why though? Why would we intercrop or relay crop? Increasing primary productivity. For Ontario it’s “farming the shoulders” of those seasons
  • Chickpea/flax performed about the same as a monocrop, because it was so dry, the disease was kept to a minimum. Land equivalent ratios (LER), an assessment of making better use of land of intercrop compared to monocrop, 2019 LER was about even.
  • Clip #1: Soil School: Relay cropping for healthy soils and profitability
  • Why soybeans between wheat, instead of cover crop intercropped with wheat? Economic return can really factor into adoption
  • Fertility? Seeding rate? Seed size? Mechanical considerations? Chickpeas helped flax bolls thresh, who knew
  • Too tall wheat shading out soybeans?
  • Winter peaola!
  • Relay cropping in Manitoba. What’s the shortest season, or heat unit area that could work?
  • Clip #2: Intercropping for rookies: Overcoming the unknown
  • “Designing” your intercrop for your area. Thinking regionally is important
  • Harvest means changing your mindset and getting your head wrapped around running the combine through twice for relay cropping
  • Intercropping and disease. Is it helpful? Not at all? Hinderance? Foliar diseases and root diseases. They behave differently. Intercropping makes no difference to foliar diseases in general. With root diseases, intercropping pea and canola for example hasn’t made a lot of difference, in practice. The theory being that glucosinolates that release isothiocyanates that kill off aphanomyces spores. Some yield benefit though!
  • Reducing inputs can be a good goal
  • In theory, intercropping crops shouldn’t need a ton of weed control…
  • Adoption of intercropping: reduces risks, reduces input costs… things to think about
  • The biggest barrier in the west? Equipment


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