What Exactly is Intercropping?


Intercropping is a unique system in which farmers and growers plant one crop right alongside another in order to double their yields without doubling their growing space. Intercropping has a variety of benefits and downfalls, and while it certainly does not work for every grower in every part of the world, it certainly can be beneficial to many. Learning more about how it works can help you make better decisions.

Three Classifications of Intercropping

Intercropping is a general term that is used to describe three different actions.

  • Mixed Cropping – Planting a variety of compatible plants together in the same space and in the same rows.
  • Row or Alley Cropping – Rather than sharing the same space, different plants take up their own rows right alongside one another in different rows.
  • Temporal Intercropping – Planting fast-growing crops alongside slower-growing ones. Relay cropping is a type of temporal intercropping during which farmers plant the second crop while the first one is already growing, and when the first crop is harvested, the second has more space to continue growing.

The Benefits of Intercropping

The farmers who use the intercropping methods used above claim that the number one benefit is the use of otherwise wasted space. For example, in traditional corn fields, the corn is planted in rows, and the space between those rows is essentially wasted. Growers who practice intercropping say that vined plants are perfect for mixing with corn because they will fill the space without “stealing” any nutrients from the corn.

Beans are one of the most popular crops used for intercropping due to yet another benefit – nitrogen production. When beans are planted near other crops, the nitrogen that they naturally produce as legumes makes its way into the soil, and this benefits the plants nearby a great deal. In fact, many farmers have found that intercropping with beans decreases their fertilizer costs drastically, all while providing yet another money-making crop.

Who Should Try Intercropping?

It is important to note that intercropping is a centuries-old practice that is thought to have originated in Asia or Africa. It allowed growers there to produce enough to feed even the largest villages in small, easily manageable spaces. In these locations, intercropping is not reserved only for large edible crops, either. Growers will often mix other plants, including flowers, in with their edibles. Marigolds, for example, will repel insects, thus enhancing marketability and yield while allowing growers to save money on chemical pesticides.

Intercropping isn’t right for everyone, and it isn’t right in all regions, either. It is especially encouraged among sustainable farming communities since it helps to avoid nutrient depletion when done correctly. Organic farmers can find new intercropping methods that boost nutrients and reduce insect infestations, and this produces larger, more bountiful organic crops at the same time.

The benefits of intercropping are many, and cultures across the globe have relied on the practice for centuries – long before herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers were available, in fact. The benefits still exist today, and when done correctly, growers can maximize their space and enhance their bottom lines.