“Intercropping is the cultivation of at least two or more species in the same field for a portion of their biological cycle. It is an ancient agricultural practice that is primarily employed in developing countries. However, due to the increased interest in sustainable cropping systems, attention to intercropping has been revitalized. Intercropping systems combine sustainable intensification with the preservation of productivity and the sustainability of agro-ecosystems” (Brooker et al., 2015; Annicchiarico et al., 2019; Glaze-Corcoran et al., 2020; Stomph et al., 2020; Justes et al., 2021).

Picture above: workshop for co-design at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

Intercropping offers significant advantages as it allows for the better utilization of environmental resources and enhances the biodiversity of the cropping system. It provides greater income security, especially in areas with unique climatic conditions or in cases of pest or disease attacks (Isbell et al., 2017). Intercropping also has positive effects on the physical and chemical properties of the soil, reducing soil erosion. When nitrogen-fixing plants are used, soils are enriched with nitrogen, and the quality of forage is improved (Lithourgidis et al., 2011). Similarly, intercropping soft wheat with various legume species enhanced soil fertility due to higher organic matter content and reduced soil erosion thanks to full ground cover (Reynolds et al., 1994). Additionally, intercropping reduces lodging through mechanical support among species, primarily legumes (Lithourgidis et al., 2011). Furthermore, yields tend to be higher compared to monocropping (Qin et al., 2013).

Picture above: intercropping of wheat with pea. Aristotelio Panepistimio Thessalonikis University, Greece.

However, intercropping also presents disadvantages, as it can complicate the use of management techniques such as seeding, harvesting, and weed control. Nonetheless, in areas with low labor costs and suitable species selection, these challenges can be effectively addressed (Lithourgidis et al., 2011). Furthermore, it’s important to note that not all intercropped plants have the same nutrient requirements. Consequently, there can be competition for light, water, and nutrients among cultivated species, which is highly likely to result in reduced yields.

Picture above: phenotyping, research at te University of Thessaloniki, Greece

The intercropping of winter cereals with legumes is used in many areas of the world and especially interest there is in the intercropping of bread and durum wheat with winter legumes under low input conditions. Therefore, co-design workshops took place at Aristotle University with the participation of several stakeholders (farmers, cooperatives, researchers, farm advisors, companies with agricultural supplies, processors, and distributors) to design wheat-legume intercropping systems for the Mediterranean area. Wheat-pea and wheat-faba bean intercrops will be used with bread and durum wheat to produce bread and pasta and especially traditional products. The systems were applied to different areas in Greece and also, and they were co-evaluated to make sure that the systems were sustainable, viable and could be adapted by the farmers. The objective of the field trials was to grow bread and durum wheat under low input conditions with intercropping with winter legumes e.g. faba bean and pea and also to adopt the intercropping of wheat with legumes and increase the area that the farmers are using the intercropping practice.

Picture above: aerial view of the experiments with wheat and pea, at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

This news item was writen by Christos Dordas, Aristotelio Panepistimio Thessalonikis University (AUTH), Greece.