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Intercropping: benefits and types
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Proper management of land and effective control of pests and weeds are crucial skills for anyone who wants to succeed in Agriculture. People now seek alternative measures to inorganic substances in controlling pests and weeds .

This is because some inorganic substances such as pesticides and herbicides may leave harmful remnants of crops. And this may have a resultant effect on the consumers of such foods.

Therefore, there is a yearning to seek an organic solution to pest and weed invasion of land. This development contributed to what brought about the concept of intercropping. Although many people confuse it with crop rotation, they are completely distinct concepts.

What is Intercropping?

Intercropping is a broad term that is dated back to the stone age. This means that it’s not a new invention. Rather, it has continued to be studied and modified by modern researchers and agriculturists.

It is the planting of crops, two, three, or more on the same piece of land at the same time to effectively manage land and other resources.

The concept goes beyond selecting random crops and planting them in an unorganized arrangement. It is a strategic process that requires deep knowledge and critical analysis of plants, the pests they attract, duration of growth, nutrient demands, the types of intercropping, and more.

Factors to consider before intercropping

Crops’ Group: Crops belonging to the same group such as maize, corn, and wheat should not be grown alongside each other. Rather, different plant groups such as cereals and legumes, cereals and oil groups, cereals and vegetables, and other combinations should be planted together.

What is Intercropping system?

Pest: Plants that have the same pest should not be planted together on a piece of land. Doing this will increase pest infestation on land rather than curbing it. Almost all legumes have the same pests. Therefore, legumes should not be grown together. This also applies to cereals, vegetables, and oil crops.

Duration of growth: The duration of growth of plants also determines whether or not they can be planted together. Plants that take a year or two years to grow, annual and biennial plants should be grown together with other plants in this category.

While plants that take a longer time to grow should be grown with other plants that take the same time to grow.

Nutrient requirements: it will be an unforgivable mistake to plant crops with the same water, sunlight, carbon dioxide , minerals, and more together. They will continue to compete against each other for these nutrients. The resultant effect of this is that some will outgrow the others, or all the plants won’t grow well.

Different Types of Intercropping Systems

There are many types of intercropping systems and this is mainly due to the arrangement of crops. They are listed as follows:

  • Row Intercropping
  • Strip Intercropping
  • Relay Intercropping
  • Alley Intercropping
  • Temporal Intercropping
  • Mixed Intercropping
  • Trap Intercropping

1. Row Intercropping

This is the most common among the other types. Here, plants are arranged together side by side in a row. The necessary factors for an arrangement such as plant nutrient requirements are considered before this arrangement.

The pattern of the arrangement may vary. Some may choose to plant a crop in a single row and plant another crop in the next row and it continues like that. While some may decide to plant in two rows and plant another crop in the next row and it continues like that.

Examples of crops that are usually planted on rows are cereals such as maize and legumes such as soybean. However, the number of rows for each crop should be different. If the total number of rows is 10, 6 rows may be set aside for legumes and 4 rows for cereals.

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2. Strip Intercropping

This method is an advanced version of row intercropping. It is more mechanized and vast, and it is usually practiced in a large-scale setting. A large piece of land that is sufficient to carry out some machine actions is highly important in this method.

The difference between rows and strips is that strips are wider. The wideness of the strips makes it easy to independently use modern machines on each crop. Two, three, or more crops can be successfully grown in this kind of arrangement. This method of planting crops is very practicable and has proven to be efficient.

3. Relay Intercropping

For a better understanding of this type of planting, we can compare it with relay races. Where the first runner starts the race and runs several times. Afterward, he passes the baton to the other player who continues the race.

It is also very similar to this. Two or more crops are grown on the same land but not at the exact time. A crop is firstly planted, watered, and would have bloomed before another crop is planted on that land.

The condition for this method is that the second plant must be able to grow despite being covered by the shad of the first plant. It means that the second plant should not need much sunlight. An example of a crop that works in this arrangement is cotton and corn.

4. Alley Cropping

This method of planting crops is done in places where there are a lot of trees, bushes, or shallow forests. Crops are planted between trees and bushes. This wisdom behind planting smaller crops besides the bigger crop is to grant protection to the smaller crops.

The bigger crops safeguard the smaller crops against erosion, heavy wind, heavy rainfall, excessive sunlight, and other unfavorable conditions that may retard the growth of the smaller crops. The bigger crops provide shade and firm support with their roots.

This method ensures the proper use of forests and forest areas. Apart from these economical uses, it will also reduce security risks by eliminating kidnappers and terrorist hideouts.

5. Temporal Intercropping

This method involves growing two or more crops with a varied duration of growth. Those plants mature at different lengths of time. E.g, growing annual and biennial crops on a piece of land at the same time.

The advantage of this is that the plants that have a shorter duration of growth are quickly harvested. While the plants that have a longer duration of growth have more area and nutrients to themselves.

6. Mixed Intercropping

Here, two or more crops are planted on the same landscape. And there is no formal arrangement into rows or strips. Usually, the crops planted have the same duration of growth and are harvested together. This method protects the crops from pests, erosion , winds, and other negative changes in the climate.

7. Trap Cropping

Crops that are planted beside the real plants to trap pests are “trapping crops”. Trapping crops helps to protect the real crops by attracting those posts to themselves. This will in turn protect the real crops from those pests.

Usually, the real crops are cash crops that may incur a huge loss if they are affected by pests. Mustard crop and Hubbard is an example of trapping crops that traps beetles, bugs, insects, borers, and other pests. Using trapping crops to prevent pests helps to reduce the cost of production by reducing the money spent on pesticides.

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Why is intercropping good? Its Benefits and Advantages

It is highly beneficial not only to the crop growers but also to everybody in the community. It possesses economic, ecological, health, and other benefits. The following are the general intercropping benefits:

  • Proper management of land
  • More profit
  • Prevention of soil erosion
  • Improved ecosystem
  • Decreased usage of inorganic substances
  • Improved health of consumers
  • Management of other natural resources

1. Proper management of land

Planting many crops in rows and strips helps to manage and use the land effectively. Many crops are planted on just a piece of land. If not for intercropping, the crop grower will need to get two or more lands if he wants to plant more crops at the same time. And the land is a scarce resource that is not easily acquired, especially in the industrialized world.

2. More profit

Planting two or more crops together in a row helps to lessen the cost of production. The crop grower uses just a piece of land, the money spent on pesticides and herbicides is also reduced, the crops have more chances to grow well and other resources such as water are also used efficiently.

Cumulatively, all these will increase the profit that would be made. Increased profit. They also give protection to cash crops, such as Trap intercropping. This protection will increase the yield of growers by reducing the loss incurred. And this will increase their profit.

3. Intercropping Prevent soil and wind erosion

Planting crops between rows, bushes and alleys make the crop’s root firm. It is specifically provides shade to crops, and protection against winds, protection against excessive sunlight, and other adverse weather conditions.

Trapping crops also attract useful pests. Trapping crops may also serve as protection to the real crops against wind, erosion, and excessive sunlight.

4. Improved ecosystem

Planting crops generally improves the ecosystem and makes the environment safe. Humans need oxygen for respiration. And plants release oxygen to the environment as by-products. It allows the planting of many more crops than monocropping does.

5. Decreased usage of inorganic substances

Intercropping provides a natural solution to many planting problems. Problems such as pest invasion, and infertility of land are being solved through this method. Planting different crops in rows and stripes makes the land more fertile.

For example, if legumes are planted with cereals, the legume releases Nitrogen into the cereal and the land. The nitrogen released helps to improve the fertility of the soil. It also helps to control weeds and pests. Therefore the application of this method to farm spares the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on the land.

6. Improved health of consumers

Some inorganic substances used to control pests and weeds may leave remnants of the crops. These remnants may be toxic when consumed by humans. Since it reduces the usage of inorganic substances in the crops, it is also improving the health of consumers of food products.

7. Management of other natural resources

Natural resources like water, air, and energy are used effectively with this system. The energy used by humans to plow, plant, and harvest is also a resource. It helps to save the energy of not only humans but also machines used.

Intercropping Disadvantages

Although, it is very beneficial to agriculture. It still has some drawbacks. Some of the disadvantages are.

Makes cultivation and harvesting difficult: It takes a lot of effort to make the rows and stripes arrangement. The planter must be careful not to disarrange those rows while planting. Also, harvesting brings about some difficulties. The crops may be destroyed if care is not taken.

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Inadequate planning and practices may incur a huge loss on the farmer: it is delicate and it requires proper and thorough planning for it to be successful. Inadequate planning may cause the crops not to grow or make them die as a result of inadequate nutrients. And this will incur a huge loss on the crop grower.

Consumes more time: Making rows, strips and even planting between trees is time-consuming. It takes a lot of time to cultivate and harvest.

Difficult to practice on a large scale: intercropping is more difficult to practice on large-scale farming. It is easier to practice on a small piece of land than to practice on a large piece of land.

In conclusion, it is a very important concept in agriculture. It provides a natural solution to many agricultural problems. It helps to ensure proper management of land, water, energy, pests, weeds, energy, and other resources.

Apart from these benefits, it also helps to boost the profits of farmers and also improve the ecosystem. However, it is not possible without proper planning and practice. GeoPard agriculture is a company that provides farmers with the information necessary to successfully carry out planting operations.

They help crop growers successfully navigate through it. GeoPard agriculture provides the necessary analysis of the land to use, the variety of crops to grow, and the type of intercropping system to use on a particular land.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does intercropping reduce the need for herbicides?

It reduces the need for herbicides through various mechanisms. Firstly, it increases crop diversity, making it difficult for weeds to establish and thrive. The presence of multiple crops in close proximity creates a competitive environment for weeds, suppressing their growth.

Additionally, It can result in better canopy coverage, shading the soil and preventing weed germination. The diverse crop mix also provides natural pest and disease control, reducing the need for chemical interventions.

2. Difference between crop rotation and intercropping?

Crop rotation and intercropping are both agricultural practices used to optimize land productivity, but they differ in their approach. Crop rotation involves the systematic rotation of different crops in a specific sequence over multiple growing seasons. This helps prevent nutrient depletion, control pests and diseases, and improve soil health.

It, on the other hand, involves growing two or more different crops together in the same field simultaneously. It aims to maximize resource utilization, promote biodiversity, and enhance overall productivity. While crop rotation focuses on the temporal sequence of crops, it emphasizes spatial arrangement and coexistence of different crops.

3. How does intercropping work?

It works by strategically planting different crops together in the same field. The crops are selected based on their compatibility and ability to benefit from each other. By combining crops with complementary growth habits, nutrient requirements, and pest control abilities, it maximizes the use of available resources and space.

The interplay between the crops creates a diverse and resilient agroecosystem, reducing the risk of crop failure and enhancing overall productivity. It also promotes natural pest control, improves soil health, and can increase biodiversity on the farm.

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