After watching from the sidelines for a couple years, I’m ready (I think) to experiment with intercropping.
Intercropping certainly isn’t a new idea. It probably reached its height of popularity in Western Canada with peola, a mixture of peas with canola. The peas fixed nitrogen for the canola while the canola gave the peas upright stems on which to cling.
There was never a large acreage of peola, and the practice pretty much ended when herbicide tolerant canola came along.
These days, one of the most interesting combinations is chickpeas with flax. Sulfentrazone (Authority) is now registered on both crops and this can provide very good control of kochia, buckwheat and pigweed. What’s still lacking is a way to control brassica weeds in the combination.
Lana Shaw from the South East Research Farm at Redvers, SK has been working with the chickpea – flax combo. She’s been putting chickpeas down the fertilizer tube with flax off to the side. The chickpeas go in deeper, but everything is in the same row.
It appears the flax is able to utilize a considerable amount of nitrogen that’s fixed by the chickpeas. However, further study with nitrogen markers will be needed to know for sure what’s happening between the two rooting systems.
The chickpeas potentially benefit from having another type of plant in the canopy to help stop the spread of disease. Chickpeas, particularly kabuli chickpeas, typically require numerous fungicide applications to ward off ascochyta. It’s hoped that intercropping will negate the need for a couple fungicide apps.
Both chickpeas and flax are later maturing and relatively shatter resistant so harvest timing has the potential to work out relatively well.
Colin Rosengren, a farmer from the Midale area, has been growing a chickpea – flax intercrop on a field scale, but he has used a somewhat different approach. Rather than both crops in the same row, he alternates between two rows of chickpeas and two rows of flax.
This requires some messing around with the drill tubes and not everybody will be interested in that sort of time investment at seeding time. For that matter, not everyone will have the patience or the facility to separate the crops after harvest.
With lots of acres to cover, most producers aren’t interested in any cropping practice that will take extra time at seeding and may create extra headaches at harvest. At least they aren’t interested unless substantial benefits can be demonstrated.
But what if you can get higher total yields, without the use of nitrogen for the flax crop? What if you can eliminate a couple of fungicide applications? What if the flax also helps the chickpeas to mature a bit earlier, potentially missing a frost?
Not only will the intercrop be better financially, it will also be viewed as more environmentally sustainable. Rosengren is a principle in Three Farmers, the company that produces and markets camelina oil.
Three Farmers is also marketing crunchy, roasted chickpeas as a snack food and topping. Each package has a trace back code. On the packages that link back to Rosengren, there’s an explanation of his intercropping. It’s a great sustainability message.
I haven’t asked Crop Insurance yet how they view intercropping. Perhaps if the crops are in separate rows, they’ll consider half the acreage as chickpeas and half as flax. It should be an interesting conversation.
I also preparing myself for people driving past the field and wondering what the heck is growing there.