What are you looking for?

Active
Arable

Cereal-legume intercropping LEGUMINOSE field lab

Supported by:

Summary

The goal of this field lab is to boost knowledge and share experiences in cereal-legume intercropping.  It is part of the European LEGUMINOSE project. 

Intercropping is an ancient agricultural technique where two or more plant species are grown simultaneously in the same field. Despite its environmental and economic benefits, intercropping is still a niche practice in the EU: Only 2% of European arable land is used for legume-cereal intercropping. 

This field lab, and the LEGUMINOSE project in general, aims to investigate the benefits of intercropping, identify the barriers which prevent farmers adopting the practice, and provide farmers with practical, science-based information on the practice.  By doing this, the project hopes to transform legume-cereal intercropping from a niche practice to a mainstream, climate smart farming practice. 

This project is funded by Horizon Europe. UK funding is provided by UKRI. The project brings together a partnership of 17 organizations from around Europe. UK partners are Reading University and Soil Association.  For more information see the LEGUMINOSE project description in the results and reports section of the field lab page.

The benefits

This method of farming can:

  • increase crop yields by up to 20%
  • improve soil health
  • suppress weeds
  • reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers (by up to 50%)
  • increase biodiversity
  • increase the resilience of agricultural systems to climate change

Trial design

The field lab will take place on over 20 farms in different location across the UK.  The trials will measure yield and soil health benefits of intercrops from a range of crop mixes in organic, conventional and regenerative systems. The on-farm trial protocols will vary slightly from farm to farm, depending on the priorities and interests of the farmers themselves.

 

Latest updates

The trial plot was planted in April 2023 as part of a whole field of intercropped beans and wheat. Although not organic, the plot was not treated with any herbicides or fungicides due to the requirements of the contracted purchaser.

The wheat was a 3-way blend of varieties, and the beans were lynx. Drilling rate was based around 60% of normal farm seed rate, with the same rate for the trial area.

Harvest was 19th August with grain samples taken from the combine and combine yield monitor used to record yield. Beans and wheat were separated out for analysis.

The intercropped area produced 6% more total yield with a Land Equivalent ration of 1.16.

Wheat Quality-the wheat from both monocrop and intercropped plot were tested for protein with the following results.

Although not to milling specification, the intercropped results show that intercropping can lead to increases in grain protein. The combined wheat and bean mixture had a protein level of 14%

Economics-Sale price has been calculated based on Farmers Weekly price for non-organic crops on 18/12/23 with ex-farm prices of £179.33 for wheat and £236.08 for beans. Cost of separation and additional seed not accounted for.

Weed and Pest levels

Weed levels appeared higher in the monocultures, particularly phacelia which had self-seeded from a neighbouring cover crop margin. There was no phacelia in the intercrop plots, but small levels in both the wheat and beans although not at levels likely to affect yield.

There appeared to be a lower level of Bruchid beetle damage in beans from the intercropped section compared to that from the bean monoculture. There was more evidence of damage in a nearby whole field bean monoculture.

Conclusion

The evidence from this trial is that intercropped mixes do increase net yield and the increases in protein level do indicate that there is a synergy between both species. The anecdotal evidence from the trial will be investigated further during the Leguminose project. We are still looking for more people to be part of the trial.

Separation or marketing of the crops is important area to investigate.

Last week over forty farmers and researchers met at a farm workshop in Oxfordshire to share their experiences of intercropping, as part of the European project LEGUMINOSE.  The event was kindly hosted by Ben Adams, who is in the middle of his own intercropping trial.

Please see the event blog for further information

Next event for your diaries:

The next LEGUMINOSE farm workshop will be held in the autumn. For more information on the LEGUMINOSE project, or if you’re interested in taking part in the field lab, contact Jerry Alford jalford@soilassociation.org 

Help us better understand intercropping: complete the questionnaire

With UK government support for companion or intercropping through SFI, there will be more interest in growing intercrops, and producing an economically viable crop is essential. We need better understanding of why intercropping is not more common, and what the barriers are to greater use of it in farming systems. To help us understand these barriers please complete the attached questionnaire so that we can arrange events farm walks and meetings to help find ways to break down these barriers.

Complete the questionnaire on intercropping

The questionnaire is hosted by Reading University.

Kick-off Webinar

March 2023

Spring farmer workshop and farm walk

June 2023

Autumn farm workshop and farm walk

October 2023

Intercropping trials

2024 growing season

Harvest

August 2024

Trials end

Autumn 2024

Group Coordinator

A portrait of Jerry Alford.
Jerry Alford

Soil Association

Bristol / UK-wide

Arable & Soils Advisor at Soil Association, and farmer. I ran the family farm in Devon for 25 years, farming dairy, then organic beef, sheep and arable units with holiday cottage conversions. Former chairman of a local farmer owned co-op grain store, and involved in the grain supply chain nationally.

Researchers

A portrait of University of Reading.
University of Reading

University of Reading

Reading