The Agronomists, Ep 47: Eric Page and Michelle Hubbard on intercropping and relay cropping
by RealAgriculture Agronomy Team
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.
“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
Pop quiz: do dry conditions automatically mean a dialling back of nitrogen rates on corn? This is a tricky question to answer as very dry conditions for prolonged periods can impact yield potential, but dry conditions also mean nitrogen is less available to the plant, so it's a tough call. For the answer to why…
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