Due to the modernization of crop production, many methods to reach higher yields have largely been explored. Most of these methods involve improving the efficiency of the utilization of different resources like solar radiation, water and nutrients. One of these methods, Intercropping, is the cultivating of two or more crop species at the same time in the same field with different patterns and designs applied.

The design and the seasonal development of the involved crops in intercropping modify the crops’ microclimate which affects its growing conditions in context to the overall climate and weather conditions. Within the IntercropVALUES Project, BOKU started a field experiment with maize/soybean combination of small strips of 1.5m width in 2023 (see figure below).

Image above: Experimental setup of the IntercropVALUES field experiment in eastern Austrian lowland with extended microclimatic and wind field measurements at a small scale. By BOKU.

Under this setup microclimatic modification through wind break between a low and a high canopy becomes an important factor influencing water use of both crops, potentially reducing unproductive water losses through evaporation. In the frame of a PhD study, investigating hedgerow effects on crops with similar effects at a larger scale, the IntercropVALUES field experiment offered an ideal opportunity to study such effects on a smaller spatial scale.

Image above: maize/soybean combination as part of the IntercropVALUES experiment in Austria. By BOKU.

For the climatic conditions in eastern Austrian drought-prone lowlands with frequent hot and dry summers, which represent similar large areas in the central-eastern European continental climate type, the specific design of Intercrop systems may therefore help to optimize crop water use and maximize crop productivity under rainfed conditions. In combination with measured plant and soil parameters, the identified microclimatic processes will help to improve and parameterize related crop yield models for optimization of the use of local water resources as well. The field experiment will be continued in its second year in 2024 and the first results will be available by the end of this year.

Image above: intercropping as part of the IntercropVALUES experiment in Austria. By BOKU.

This news item was written by Josef Eitzinger, Günther Gollobich and Aliyeh Salehi, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna (Austria).