Dr. Mike Ostlie hosts a panel discussing the potential and process for intercropping with pulse crops. Dr. Ostlie is a research agronomist at NDSU Carrington REC. He leads us through a discussion with Justin Jacobs a Research Specialist at NDSU Williston REC,
Dr. Chengci Chen a Cropping Systems Agronomist and Superintendent of the Montana State University Eastern Ag Research Center and Karl Mavencamp a farmer from Malta, Montana.
The concept of having two crops growing in the same space requires a balance of inputs, resources and management to create a system that produces an overall increase in total yield per acre.
Let’s meet our panel! Justin Jacobs joins us to share his research at NDSU Williston. His recent focus has been on field peas and canola and developing the most advantageous management. He has also explored different protocols such as mixed row and alternate row planting. Dr. Chengci Chen has been working on pulse crops for over 18 years in Montana and has been most recently working on intercropping a chickpea crop with oil seed crops and forage type plants for better yield and disease suppression. Karl Mavencamp has been farming for almost 40 years. He started with conventional farming practices and now follows a no-till cover crop protocol with pulse crops in his rotation. He provides us an invaluable frontline, practical, farming perspective.
While pulse crops are not used on every rotation an even fewer number of producers are using them with an intercropping practice. Karl shares that he was introduced to intercropping with pulse crops when he wanted to add a different crop to his rotation with a similar harvest timing and decreased input potential. Justin adds that he thinks as an industry, farming needs to produce more crops while focusing on reducing inputs and still benefiting the soil to preserve farming in the future. This led him to exploring intercropping with different crops with different advantages including pulse crops.
Added benefits to incorporating pulse crops and intercropping practices include an improvement in grain protein quality, seed quality, total yield and added disease suppression according to Dr. Chen. Karl shares that anecdotally he had noticed a decrease in ascacida in his flax intercropping efforts. He shares that with his most recent harvest he got 80% chickpeas and 20% flax when they are intercropped. Karl highlights the harvestability, disease suppression and easability of storage as big advantages to the chickpea/flax intercropping.
The next question involved discussing the use of fertilizers when legumes are incorporated into an operation. Dr. Chen did not find any fertility inputs such as nitrogen were needed for the flax/chickpea combination because of the chickpea nitrogen fixation. Karl echoed this experience with his flax/chickpea intercropping. Justin has noticed a decrease in canola yield without any additional nitrogen added. He suggests looking specifically at which of the intercropping crops will create the most financial and management advantages for the producer and making sure that crop is most supported. Some plants will require more nitrogen and support than others and all of these factors must be taken into account.
Of course introducing two different crops together creates different challenges with weed management. Dr. Chen shares that different combinations can be more easily managed than others. Some will require specific inputs and some will naturally provide weed suppression with the competition of resources. Justin recommends a pre-emergent herbicide if intercropping with pulse crops. Research into each individual crop and the combination of the two is needed when planning out your operation.
Another challenge faced is post-harvest processing and storage management with two different crops being involved. Karl does not separate his chickpeas and flax after harvesting and stores them together as well. This has led to difficulties due to moisture levels. He suggests assessing their moisture content prior to harvesting to make sure the moisture level is managed prior to that to avoid needing additional drying practices. Karl will adjust his practice based on the water available. Some years he runs out of water and they desiccant without any additional inputs. The key he found to creating the best harvest timing possible has to do with making sure the seeding depths were individual to the crops needs allowing the timing to be best coordinated. This led to a discussion of seeding depths. Justin shares some different techniques and engineering to allow for row systems including employing an alternating row system. If you are pursuing a mixed row system he suggests splitting the difference between seeding depths to hopefully provide the most support to both crops possible. Karl shares different engineering techniques he has used in seeding to try to achieve different seeding depths. Both Karl and Justin suggest these efforts are a work in progress to avoid multiple passes in the field during seeding.