Companion Crops Lower Inputs and Increase Yields, Study Shows

Five companion crops were studied by Texas A&M researchers.

An age-old production method often associated with Native Americans has been validated by study results from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Companion crops, or intercropping, blends two or more vegetable or non-vegetable crops in a plot to increase production.

“The idea behind companion cropping is to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem and functionally diverse plant community to increase individual plant production. When we have different crops that fill different functional niches, we find diverse planting can produce more overall and decrease input costs.” says Dr. Jose Franco, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Agriculture Research Service agroecologist, Mandan, North Dakota, who conducted the two-year study of intercropping at the Texas A&M University Horticulture Farm in Bryan for his doctoral dissertation.

His work was under the guidance of Dr. Astrid Volder, former Texas A&M University faculty and current University of California at Davis plant physiologist; Dr. Stephen King, a former professor and vegetable breeder with Texas A&M department of horticultural sciences, College Station; and Dr. Joe Masabni, AgriLife Extension small acreage horticulturist, Overton.

Franco’s study included intercropping peanuts, watermelon, okra, cowpea and hot peppers.

He tested five mixes within the same rows: peanuts and watermelon; peanuts, watermelon, and okra; peanuts, watermelon, okra, and cowpeas; and a row with all five test crops. Franco also tested alternating single rows of watermelon and peanuts.

Individual plants were spaced about 12 inches apart in a staggered row pattern so the same species would not be along side each other.

The legumes are an important part of this study due to their nitrogen-fixing qualities; the watermelon helps with weed suppression; and the hot peppers acted as a potential pest barrier.

“We found that three to four species consistently yielded higher per-unit land area compared to crops grown alone,” Franco says. “We reduced inputs like fertilizers and herbicides. We actually used minimal fertilizer and no herbicides, and the only major input we utilized was irrigation. So we enhanced resource use efficiency by planting the crops together.”

Masabni said intercropping is an ideal method for small-acreage growers with limited land space.

“The results are encouraging for these growers because we proved you can get better yields if you choose the right crop combinations of nitrogen fixing legumes, tall plants and smother crops,” he said. “It makes me wonder how they knew to do this, but Native Americans knew exactly what they were doing, and we’ve proved the concept works.”

Intercropping with three or four species performed best, Franco says.

“Productivity declined with one or two and more than four, and the plots with peppers showed an overall decline in productivity, so choosing the right combination is important,” he says.

Franco’s publication, Harvest Gains from Intercropping, is available in PDF form on the AgriLife Extension bookstore website.

 

Leave a Reply

Production Stories
Fruits
November 9, 2017
Organic Fresh Produce Sales Top $1 Billion in Third Quarter
Sales of organic fruit were up 8.3% year on year, while sales of organic vegetables rose 6.2%. Read More
Citrus
November 7, 2017
New Tool Helps Growers Improve Phosphorus Efficiency
Technology newly available to specialty crop growers provides economic and environmental benefits. Read More
Sun-and-moon
Citrus
November 7, 2017
Study: Circadian Clock in Plants May Boost Water Efficiency
The Texas A&M team that won a 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on circadian rhythm at a molecular level turn their attention to plants. Read More
Brittany Lee of Florida Blue Farms
Farm Management
November 2, 2017
Sustainable Practices Make Perfect for Florida Farmers
Industry leadership award honorees stand out in setting new standards through innovative technology and BMPs. Read More
Fruits
October 29, 2017
Biological Control of Fire Blight Among Organic Grant Recipients
More than $16 million in grant monies were allocated to projects seeking to boost organic production. Read More
Berries
October 26, 2017
Grower Sees Challenges, Opportunities in Booming Organic Berry Market
While sales are skyrocketing, organic berries bring a whole host of challenges to grow. Read More
Fruits
October 25, 2017
5 Studies That Help Explain How Organic Production Works
Science backs up claims that organic methods lead to healthier soils and nitrogen retention. Read More
Berries
October 24, 2017
First Organic Strawberry Varieties to be Developed
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire hope to develop first varieties specifically for organic production. Read More
IFTA grand rapids tour bus
Citrus
October 23, 2017
What NOAA is Expecting Winter 2018 to Look Like
Looming La Niña could mean colder and wetter than normal in the northern U.S. and drier than usual in the south. Read More
Events
October 20, 2017
Agriculture’s Big Data is Coming to You [Opinion]
It’s an opportunity to fine-tune your operation and maximize profits, but it also brings obligations. Read More
Fruits
October 19, 2017
New Online Tool Helps Growers Determine Need for Groundwater Recharge
California Land Use Viewer can help growers determine if they can adopt groundwater recharge practices on their own operations. Read More
subirrigation implementation
Irrigation
October 19, 2017
Northeast Florida Farmers Stepping up to Save Water
Green light given to nine agricultural projects steeped in stewardship. Read More
Growers boot up drone technology on the farm
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Are You a Precision Grower?
Gathering, analysis, and application still seems to be the best basic definition of precision agriculture. Read More
Fruits
October 5, 2017
Environmental Monitoring Helps With Food Safety Modernization Act
Monitoring may be most effective way to meet the preventative controls component of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Read More
Fruits
October 3, 2017
Bill Introduced to Crack Down on Fake Organic Product Imports
Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act seeks stricter enforcement of imports, modernization of documentation. Read More
The Latest
Biocontrols Conference
November 13, 2017
Biostimulants Making Big Strides as It S…
The inaugural BiocontrolsSM USA East Conference & Expo in Orlando, FL, featured two days of educational sessions focused on how Read More
Biocontrols Conference
November 13, 2017
So What Exactly Are Biostimulants, Anywa…
Biostimulants are one of the hottest new topics in specialty crops, but most growers could use a little clarity on where they fit. Here are the basics you need to know. Read More
Biocontrols Conference
November 13, 2017
Microbial-based Biostimulants: Big Poten…
There is no shortage of interest in or questions and opinions about biostimulants. Many are working to develop them as Read More
Citrus
November 7, 2017
Study: Circadian Clock in Plants May Boo…
The Texas A&M team that won a 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on circadian rhythm at a molecular level turn their attention to plants. Read More
Fruits
October 25, 2017
5 Studies That Help Explain How Organic …
Science backs up claims that organic methods lead to healthier soils and nitrogen retention. Read More
Events
October 20, 2017
Agriculture’s Big Data is Coming t…
It’s an opportunity to fine-tune your operation and maximize profits, but it also brings obligations. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Are You a Precision Grower?
Gathering, analysis, and application still seems to be the best basic definition of precision agriculture. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$10 Million for Honeybee Health
National Honey Board, Project Apis.m investing in pollinator research. Read More
Leafy Vegetables
October 2, 2017
Yuma Growers Embrace Precision Productio…
The arid climate and a labor shortage have fostered fertile ground for high-tech growing methods. Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Improving Water Management: Can Silicon …
Though very much-needed, technological solutions must be cost-effective and industry appropriate. Read More
Production
September 6, 2017
Companion Crops Lower Inputs and Increas…
An age-old production method often associated with Native Americans has been validated by study results from the Texas A&M AgriLife Read More
Insect Control
September 6, 2017
Vegetable Pest Populations Can Soar in H…
High tunnels alone are not enough to control pest populations, the study shows. To control pest levels, growers need to take other steps that allow ventilation while screening crops, and supporting natural predators. Read More
Production
August 30, 2017
Houweling’s Tomatoes Grows Produce with …
Houweling’s Tomatoes exceeds industry standards for locally grown produce while pioneering innovative technologies that improve sustainability. Read More
Citrus
August 23, 2017
Varroa Mite Researchers Talk High Infest…
In 2016, The New York State Beekeeper Tech Team (which is attached to Cornell University’s Dyce Lab Beekeeping Resources) found that Read More
Production
August 9, 2017
Greenhouse Vegetable Production Systems …
From fully automated deepwater culture to vertical growing systems, growers and manufacturers weigh in on tools for producing top-quality vegetables and greens. Read More
Crop Protection
August 2, 2017
Report: 90% of NY Beehives Had Varroa Mi…
Cornell University's NYS Beekeeper Tech Team recent report also shows most hives are infected with Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), a disease linked to the mites. Read More
Organic
July 19, 2017
4 Challenges Large Operations Face in Or…
Organic vegetable production in Monterey County has evolved over the past 25 years. It was once the domain of small- Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Orga…
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More