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The case for intercropping to improve yield, resilience, and biodiversity: Its practiced globallybut we havent surely got to grips with it in Europe

Intercropping, the cultivation of several crops simultaneously in exactly the same field, is widely practiced around the world.

Legume-cereal intercropping, however, is predominantly practiced in African and Parts of asia. Intercropping includes a amount of advantagesbut we havent really surely got to grips with it in Europeas a competent production system, in accordance with Dr John Hammond, Professor of Crop Science at the University of Reading.

A fresh research study, funded by Horizon Europe, is seeking to prove its benefits on home soil and encourage uptake for sustainable crop production over the bloc.

The advantages of intercropping

The EU-funded project has been aptly named LEGUMINOSE. Led by the University of Florence in Italy, the four-year project boasts 22 partners like the University of Reading and can involve a huge selection of on-farm trials.

Its centered on the idea of legume-cereal intercropping, explained Dr Hammond throughout a Good Food Institute (GFI) webinar. The advantages of intercropping are far-reaching, the crop science expert elaborated.

To begin with, intercropping can enable a far more resilient cropping system. When two crops are cultivated simultaneously in exactly the same field, they access different resources. So when among those crops is really a legume, it could provide nitrogen to the adjacent cereal crop, reducing reliance on nitrogen inputs.

Greater resilience may also be assured in temperature variations or extreme climates. In that situation, the crop scientist suggested its likely one crop will dominate and create a yield. Whereas, if youve only got an individual crop, also it doesnt favour that change in environment, it is possible to lose a complete crop altogether.

Having two crops in the field offers you two bites of the cherry for the reason that sense.

Intercropping also increases yield per crop. Data collated by the University of Reading shows that growing two crops in exactly the same environment boosts overall yield of the machine, in comparison to if one crop was grown alone.

Another key reason famers might want to intercrop pertains to its positive effect on on-farm diversity. Intercropping barley with a pea crop, for instance, can offer pollinator resources for bees and insects, he explained.

It does increase the entire biodiversity and, as stated, comes with an environmental benefit by reducing reliance on nitrogen-based fertilisers.

High-protein bread?

Another surprising advantage of intercropping legume and cereal crops for instance, lupin beans and wheat is that it could raise the grain protein content of the cereal.

This may prove particularly advantageous for the united kingdom bakery sector, suggested Dr Hammond. In the united kingdom, were searching for wheat with a higher protein content for bread making quality. If [the protein content] drops, then that wheat eventually ends up entering animal feed instead of bread making.

Whenever we do intercropping, and raise the proportion of legume in the crop, we raise the quantity of protein in the wheat grain.

That is significant considering that via intercropping, higher protein content in wheat may be accomplished without the usage of nitrogen fertilisers.

Why doesnt every farmer intercrop?

Intercropping is not any panacea. Although it is practiced in lots of regions of the planet, it isn’t widely adopted in the united kingdom nor generally in most of Europe. In accordance with Dr Hammond, the reason being it could present challenges to farmers.

One key challenge is that intercropping means a mixed agronomy. When two crops are growing in exactly the same space, they could require different technical control methods, and various times of applications of varied products and harvesting.

Managing those variances requires knowledge and careful crop selection, we were told.

Another issue is based on the current presence of gluten using cereal crops. In case a legume is supposed for used in a gluten-free product, nonetheless it has been intercropped with wheat for instance, which could present challenging for the processor.

One potential treatment for this issue was already trialled. We intercropped a lentil crop with oats, so we dont have that potential cross contamination issue, he told delegates. Further, as there exists a greater grain size difference between oats and lentils, its easier to separate both, we were told.

The LEGUMINOSE project is attempting to overcome these challenges with new solutions. You can find clear environmental advantages to intercropping and the researchers desire to increase consumer and processor understanding of the potential market opportunities of legume-cereal intercropping systems.

Well do this by considering the socio-economic impacts over the value chain. Its not only an agronomy project, he stressed. Weve got partners over the value chain so we are able to co-develop products and ideas, and increase knowledge, about how exactly to utilise the products in the years ahead.

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