Increasing Sustainability by Intercropping

in HortTechnology
Authors: R.M. Coolman1 and G.D. Hoyt1
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  • 1 Department of Soil Science, North Carolina State University, Mountain Horticultural Crops Research & Extension Center, 2016 Fanning Bridge Rd., Fletcher, NC 28732.

Plant interactions are both competitive and cooperative. Farmers use intercropping to the mutual advantage of both main and secondary crops in a multiple-crop-production system. A vegetable crop has a competitive advantage over a younger secondary cover crop interseeded before vegetable maturity. Non-legume intercropped cover crops can use soil N, while a legume intercrop can increase N in agricultural systems by biological N fixation. Intercropping also may be more efficient than monocropping in exploiting limited resources. Relay-planting main crop and intercrop components so that resource demands (nutrients, water, sunlight, etc.) occur during different periods of the growing season can be an effective means of minimizing interspecific competition. Intercropping systems often exhibit less crop damage associated with insect and plant pathogen attacks, and they provide weed control.

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