Intercropping | 10 Types, Advantages and Disadvantages

Intercropping is a method of growing more than one crop in the same piece of land during the same crop season.

This is an environmentally friendly pest control, crop protection, and yield enhancement approach.

It results in increased and better nutrient recycling in the soil, stable yields, and control of pests and diseases with enhanced biodiversity.

intercropping
©FAO/Pietro Cenini

Definition

Intercropping is defined as growing two or more crops simultaneously on the same land.

One can notice crop intensification in terms of both space and time dimensions under the inter-cropping system.

The major benefit is it increases the production per unit area compared to single cropping through the effective use of resources and nutrients, including water and solar energy. Inter-cropping is preferred over sole cropping due to superior yield and efficient utilization of available resources.

Main Crop or Base Crop

The base crop is grown as a main source of income on the farm. A suitable intercrop is grown between the vacant spaces of the main crop.

Intercrop is the plantation of different crops between the main crop’s vacant spaces.

It tends to have a short life cycle and is mainly grown with the intention of additional revenue, but it also mitigates losses during main crop failure.

Different types of intercropping systems

1. Mixed Intercropping or Mixed Cropping

Growing two or more crops simultaneously on the same piece of land with no distinct row arrangement

2. Row Method

row intercrop technique
Maize and legumes in alternating rows (serc.carleton.edu)

Here, different crops are grown simultaneously on the same piece of land in a distinct row arrangement.

3. Patch method

Patch intercrop
patch inter crop.

In this method, intercrops are grown in patches in vacant spaces on the same piece of land. 

4. Strip cropping

In this method, we will grow more than one crop in strips to allow independent cultivation in the same piece of land.

5. Relay Intercropping

In relay cropping, intercrops are sown or planted when the main crops reach maturity. But it is done before harvesting of the base crop.

6. Parallel Intercropping

In this method, both selected intercrop and main crops have different growing habits.

Hence, there will be zero competition for the available resources. So, both crops can express their full yield potential.

7. Multi-Storied Intercropping

In multistoried intercropping, crops with different heights are selected.

Mostly, this method is adopted for plantation crops.

8. Alley cropping

Alley cropping is an agroforestry system where intercrops are grown in the alleys of trees, hedges, etc.

9. Guard Crops

The main crop is grown in the center, where hardy or thorny crops surround it. Thus, the main crop gets protection with the help of gourd crops.

Guard crops are mainly planted to protect the main crop.

Example: Safflower with thorny bushes can protect other crops.

10. Trap cropping

Trap crops like marigolds and mustard, etc., are intercropped between the main crop to trap various insect pests.

11. Filler Cropping

filler intercrop
Turmeric intercrop field with coconut

It is a method of cropping in which newly established orchards are planted with other filler crops in the juvenile period of the main crop.

This helps in the efficient utilization of space to earn some extra profits.

12. Mixed Cropping

mixed crop
Coconut, Banana, and more crops

It is said to be mixed cropping when two or more crops are grown on the same piece of land.

In mixed cropping, seeds of different crops are mixed and sown or broadcasted.

Mixed cropping is popular in areas prone to natural calamities like drought, frost, etc.

Further, though all the crops are sown simultaneously, they mature at different times.

Mixed cropping may cause problems in harvesting and carrying out intercultural operations.

How does intercropping work

When a leguminous crop is planted along with a non-leguminous crop, the leguminous crops enhance the soil nitrogen content due to rhizobium bacteria in their roots. There by the other plant is also benefitted.

On the other hand, non-leguminous crops enhance soil organic matter, which is again helpful for the growth of soil bacteria due to improved water-holding capacity of the soil, and thus, all the plants benefit.

Rules to follow in the selection of inter-crops

Caution should be exercised while selecting crops with different growth habits, duration, root growth, taxonomical families, etc.

  • Grow tall-growing crops along with bushy crops.
  • Select shallow-rooted crops as intercrops in the deep-rooted crop.
  • Long-duration crops should be intercropped with short-duration crops.
  • Grow slow-growing crops in vacant spaces of fast-growing crops.
  • Selected main crops and intercrops should show a very negligible allelopathic effect.
  • We need to intercrop non-legumes with intercrops.
  • Crops selected should be of different families to avoid various pests and diseases.

Advantages of intercropping

  • Better utilization of growth resources like nutrients, light, and moisture.
  • Mitigate losses where the failure of any one of the component crops occurs.
  • A farmer can get extra yield and, thereby, extra income from the unit area.
  • Better utilization of space is available with the time dimensions.
  • We can achieve better weed control by growing intercrops.
  • Minimizes the chances of soil crust formation.
  • Mitigate losses where the failure of any one of the component crops occurs.
  • Intercrops will also enhance soil fertility.
  • Controls soil erosion.
  • To some extent, the pests and diseases of the main crop are controlled.
  • Ecological stability.
  • Cultivation practices for the major crop will also supplement companion crop requirements.
  • It provides shading and physical support to some crops.
  • It provides daily needs for the farmers.

Disadvantages of intercropping

  • Sometimes, intercrops work as alternate hosts for various pests and diseases.
  • Differential maturity and sometimes harvesting may become a problem.
  • It becomes difficult to control various pests and diseases.
  • Intercropping is a labor-intensive practice.
  • Allelopathic effect. (Plants produce biochemicals that influence the growth and reproduction of others.)
  • Possibility of problems in carrying out intercultural operations.
  • Difficulty in mechanization for processes like crop cutting, spraying, and irrigation.
  • There might be competition among the component crops.

Frequently asked questions and answers.

1. How does intercropping control pests

Pests of one crop can feed on pests of other crops and thus help in pest control of the main crop.

2. How does intercropping compare to monocropping in terms of crop production?

Intercropping allows for cultivating more crops within the same space than monocropping, potentially leading to increased productivity and resilience against crop failure.

3. What role does intercropping play in oxygen production, and how does this affect human health?

By supporting a diversity of plants, intercropping increases the amount of oxygen released into the environment through the natural process of photosynthesis, which is essential for human respiration and overall health.

4. How does intercropping contribute to a safer environment?

Intercropping enhances the overall health of the ecosystem, which in turn contributes to a safer environment by maintaining ecological balance and improving air quality.

5. what is the difference between intercropping and crop rotation

Crop rotation is a method where a different crop is planted on the same piece of land after removing the previous crop.

Intercropping, on the other hand, grows multiple crops on the same piece of land simultaneously.

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