Our project partner SAOS | Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society Ltd published last year an article to introduce the project and intercropping to its members and wider audience in Scotland.  The newsletter where it appears is printed and sent to approx. 680 co-op managers and farmer directors of Scotland’s farm co-ops.  It is also openly available on the SAOS Website  https://saos.coop/. We reproduce here the main content of the article.

Picture above: farm event in Scotland, in a field with winter oilseed rape and spring cereal which were grown together to reduce the risk of cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) damage (taken in November 2023 by Robin Walker)

What is intercropping?

“Intercropping” is the growing of two or more companion crops together. Organic farmers have been practising intercropping for many years.  Its use by non-organic conventional farmers, however, is less common. The James Hutton Institute (JHI) amongst others, have been working on intercrops for many years. Historically, intercrops have been grown in Scotland in the past. “Mashlum”, was a legume-cereal crop mix commonly either pea-oats or bean-oats.  It dropped out of favour in the 1950’s – due to the rapid increase in the use of nitrogen fertiliser.

Why the interest in intercropping?

Intercropping is a proven route to reduce the impact of crop production on the environment, improve soil health, reduce reliance in inorganic fertiliser and agri-chemicals, build more resilient farm systems, reduce GHG emissions and importantly, contribute to more sustainable and profitable farms.  It fits well with ScotGov policy and their future vision for Scottish agriculture. The demand for sustainable / low carbon food and drink products is only expected to grow in the future.

Who are the partners in the project?

SAOS is the UK industry partner alongside SRUC, who are the UK academic partner. In total, there are 27 partners in the project, representing 16 different countries. Gathering the experiences from others will be fascinating and a good route to fast-track our own understanding.

What are the project’s objectives

The project’s main aim is to demonstrate the benefits of intercropping and the opportunity to develop high value markets for food and drink products grown from intercrops. To date intercrops have largely been grown for livestock feed. The aim is to develop and showcase new high-value consumer markets.  Ultimately, the main outcome is to encourage more farmers to practice intercropping in the future.

One of the main elements of the “IntercropVALUES” project involves the development of 13 co-innovation case studies from the EU (9), UK (1), Serbia (1), Switzerland (1) and Mozambique (1).  There is a particular focus on the supply chain – growers, processors, distributors and retailers. To better understanding the barriers, challenges and key issues along the supply chain and how they can be overcome and developed.

Picture above: same crop than the one in the first picture in April 2024, after having been grazed heavily after Christmas by sheep to further reduce the risk of CSFB as well as weeds, including the spring cereal (by Robin Walker).

Who are the project’s funders?

The “IntercropVALUES” project is funded by the European Commission through the Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Program, the project website is (www.intercropvalues.eu). As the UK is no longer in the EU, our funding will come Innovate UK. It is a 4-year project which commenced in November 2022 and will end October 2026.

What are the challenges of growing intercrops?

The potential barriers for growing intercrops are:

  • Uncertainty and a lack of experience
  • Harvesting and separating different crops (need for a separator)
  • Different harvest dates for companion crops
  • Prevalence of weeds
  • Lack of clear advice
  • Marketing of innovative crops for human market

These are the main challenges to be addressed by the project.  We believe part of the solution will be increased co-operation and collaboration.

Picture above: crop of peas, spring cereal and also spring sown oilseed rape in a mix in another CICS 03 farm, June 2023 (by Robin Walker)

How can farm co-op members get involved?

There are a few examples of high-value products grown from intercrops in Scotland  – Arbikie Distillery, Hodmedods, Norvite / SCOCAN, amongst others. We see opportunities for some of our co-ops to develop new potential markets or simply to keep abreast of developments to support their farmer members.

This article was included in the SAOS “Update Newsletter”, Spring 2023.  The newsletter is printed and sent to approx. 680 co-op managers and farmer directors of Scotland’s farm co-ops.  It is also openly available on the SAOS Website  https://saos.coop/