Researchers at Wageningen University and China Agricultural University have demonstrated that intercropping is good for the soil. After eight years of intercropping, the quantity of organic carbon in the soil was 4% greater than in the soil of single-crop systems, while the amount of soil organic nitrogen was 10% greater. They have published their research in the scientific journal Global Change Biology.
Intercropping can help soils to fix the greenhouse gas CO2 and, because nutrients are absorbed more efficiently in intercropped systems, there is less leaching of these substances out of the soil into groundwater. Furthermore, higher levels of organic carbon and organic nitrogen enhance soil fertility, enabling better yields to be achieved.
Little use in Western agriculture
Smallholder farmers in less developed economies use intercropping a great deal, but the method is not often applied in Western intensive agriculture. However, intercropping has a number of benefits: more efficient land use, natural suppression of diseases and pests, and a better utilisation of resources such as water and nutrients.
The research now published proves that intercropping can be beneficial for what are called ecosystem services – such as CO2 fixation – which are valuable in the longer term and on large scale.