Intercropping in arable systems

Interest in Intercropping has been growing amongst conventional and organic farmers for some time. This field lab will look at how farmers can use intercropping to make their arable systems more sustainable and productive.

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Field Lab Timeline

    6/5/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Idea formation

    Idea formation
  • 6/6/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Initial interest meeting

    Initial interest meeting
  • 11/23/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Second topic discussion meeting

    Second topic discussion meeting
  • 12/15/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Method development

    Method development
  • 1/10/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Methods decided

    Methods decided
  • 2/1/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Trial start

    Trial start
  • 3/1/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Trial progression meeting

    Trial progression meeting
  • 5/31/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Initial results gathered

    Initial results gathered
  • 6/9/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Meeting to discuss initial results

    Meeting to discuss initial results
  • 12/3/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Trial conclusion

    Trial conclusion
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    May 2018

    Data collection methods

    Protocol for data collection:
    The group agreed with using the data collection protocol provided by the DIVERSIfy project.
    Data will be predominantly collected by farmers. This will include establishment counts, harvest data and gross margin based on records of seeding rates, inputs etc.

    It was decided yield and harvest data collection will be collected by a researcher from the DIVERSIfy project (if possible) due to the busy time of year for the farmers and this will also enable continuity in the data collection (1 person to collect all the harvest data from each farm). The group coordinator and researchers will liaise with individuals on this and preliminary results will be fed back at the next meeting.

    Milestone: Methods decided

    May 2018

    Trial progress and next steps

    The May meeting commenced with an introduction to the kit that has been used to address drilling and harvest complexity for intercropping at one of the trial farms. This includes a cross slot drill and a seed sorter that has been custom built. There was then a farm walk to some of the intercropped fields.

    Intercropping on the farm includes:
    Barley/ clover (small and medium white, alsike clover and yellow trefoil) planted 28/7/17
    Linseed/ lentils planted 24/4/18
    Fabola (Beans/ spring oilseed rape) at varying concentration/ quantities (being trialed as part of the DIVERSify EU project) planted 20/04/18
    Wheat into a clover mixture (white and alsike clover, yellow plus birdsfoot trefoil) planted 31/3/17
    Oats/ clover (trefoils and micro-clover) planted 21/4/18 "

    Milestone: Trial progression meeting

    May 2018

    Spring meeting

    The next meeting will be hosted by Andy Howard at Oaklands Farm, TN261ER, on May 2nd.

    We will start the day at 10 am and Andy will show us around including the cross-slot drill, and intercrop separator. There will hopefully be bean/OSR intercrop, spring oats undersown with clover and linseed/lentils to see in the field. We will discuss the group trials and potential ‘working groups’ that are coming out of the crop combos being tested, and have lunch in a local pub. A more detail agenda will be available nearer the date.

    Please let know if you wish to attend so that we have an idea of numbers for the day.

    Milestone: Trial start

    May 2018

    Trial intercropping mixes


    A number of group members were successfully funded for the 2018 DIVERSify Intercropping trials looking at a range of plant teams. Plant teams include: Wheat and Beans, Carlin Peas and Triticale, Beans and Spring OSR.

    Small trial plots have also been set up at the University of Reading Crops Research Unit. Four reps of x 6 treatments: Pea, Bean, OSR, Pea/OSR, Bean/OSR and an OSR/legume intercrop (to fill the 6th plot in the block) in 5m x 2m plots. There will also be 3 reps x 3 treatments of OSR, OSR/Barley and OSR/legume in 5m x 4m plots to look at the effect of intercropping on fleabeetle damage.

    The Organic Research Centre also have wheat and bean, and wheat and lupin intercropping trials at this site.

    Milestone: Trial start

    January 2018

    Methods discussion

    Potential methodologies were then discussed where the group identified the following outcome measurements:

    - Yield (quadrat cuts, total yield, registered biomass),
    - Weed pressure (plant counts, quadrat),
    - Insect pressure (visual assessment),
    - General observations (visual assessment),
    - Nutrients (tissue test and soil testing over time) and
    - Economics (cost- inputs and outputs).

    These traits were considered alongside protocols that are being developed as part of the DIVERSify project.

    Milestone: Method development

    January 2018

    Outcomes from second meeting

    This meeting identified the past experiences working with plant teams (complementary crops) within the group.

    Example plant teams tried and effectiveness are as follows:

    - Spring Wheat and Tundra Beans,
    - Spring Barley and Peas (Unsuccessful),
    - Peas and Oil Seed Rape (OSR),
    - Chickpeas and Linseed (Unsuccessful),
    - Clover and OSR alongside direct drilling.

    Plant teams of interest for further trials were selected and discussed. It was noted that the type of plant team will depend on the farm environment e.g. soil type and weed burden. Plant team success will likely be measured at a single farm scale but the group will consider options for cross-farm comparisons of different crop combination 'working groups' e.g. cereal and legumes.

    The group discussed what they would like to get out of the plant teams and why they are interested in trialling certain combinations. The first ideas are as follows:

    - Clover undersown / companion cropped with a cash crop (to supress weeds, improve soil health, improve yield, improve water infiltration and soil structure).

    - Beans and OSR (to increase yield, the two crops are easy to seperate and have similar harvest dates).

    - Clover with a cash crop (to improve soil health and reduce chemical usage).

    - Beans and wheat (Reduce weeds in bean crop, and the wheat should not outcompete the beans).

    - Legumes and buckwheat (To supress weeds and improve soil health and mineral availability).

    - Vetch and Westwold, linseed and peas and yellow trefoil and spring barley (to increase diversity on farm and spread risk).

    The group then dicussed a potential trial plot intercropping OSR with beans and other cash crops, to be held at the University of Reading (to reduce pest risk in OSR).

    Milestone: Second topic discussion meeting

    January 2018

    Second topic meeting

    The next meeting will take place on the 30th January at The Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm RG20 0HR.

    This meeting will give an opportunity to develop research questions, and identify synergies among group members in their interests and what they are testing in the field. The meeting will also allow anyone applying for funding from the DIVERSify project for on-farm trials and demonstration of ‘plant teams’ to bring along their applications where there will be a surgery to help with the process and explore trial design.

    Milestone: Second topic discussion meeting

    November 2017

    Workshop on intercropping

    Workshop at Rushall Organics on the theme of Organic Cereal Production. There was a range of attendees from both organic and conventional production systems as well as representation throughout the supply chain. The workshop looked to identifiy the motivations for intercropping and the past experiences of the group when intercropping; looking at both the successes and failures.

    The discussion also identifed the barriers farmers have faced when intercropping and the possible solutions to these barriers. Barriers identifed included the choice of varieties and how seed mixes/ variety could influence he successfulness of the crops, lack of market and the high cost of machinery. The group identified some possible solutions to barriers including the sharing of knowledge and experiences between farmers and others.

    Similar sessions where also held at Overbury Estates and Stockbridge Technology Centre in October. The group now has 25 members including 12 farmers, as well as researchers and agricultural advisors.

    Milestone: Idea formation

    November 2017

    Further idea discussion and farmer recruitment

    After the initial meeting, the field lab has 3 farmers - 2 organic and 1 conventional, and a total of 7 members. If you are interested in joining this group, please come along to the meeting on 23 November, details and booking information can be found here:

    Milestone: Second topic discussion meeting

    June 2017

    Initial interest meeting

    This field lab has recently been created in light of the Organic Research Centre's DIVERSify project, which stems from EU Horizon 2020 funding. Interested farmers first met on 7 June 2017 to discuss the opportunities for intercropping to provide more efficient resource use, reducing pest and disease pressure and provide better weed competition.

    The day included:

    Farm tour with John Pawsey (Shimpling Park Farm):
    Using System Cameleon combi drill and hoe for establishing and managing intercrops. Peas and barley, buckwheat in spring oat, wheat and beans.

    Researchers and farmers sharing learning's from the field, including Andy Howard,
    Nuffield Scholar on Intercropping, Dominic Amos, ORC.

    Farmers shared photos and learnings, with Q&A

    Topics included:

    Crop planning
    Species selection and combinations
    Establishment and management
    Harvest, separation and markets.

    Milestone: Initial interest meeting

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