Unlike the growing of a single crop on a field during the vegetation season, considered monoculture, a polyculture crop production system implies the growing of multiple crops simultaneously or in a crop rotation.
This farm system is more labor intensive than the monoculture and tends to be more convenient for farm management and beneficial to the soil and environment. Additionally, there are many advantages associated with a polyculture system as compared to monoculture:
- Better nutrient utilization – nutrients not utilized by one crop will be beneficial to another crop in the crop rotation
- Better soil utilization – the soil is used year round
- Stable yields – the yield is not as easily threatened by adverse weather and environmental conditions
- Less land and water use – multiple crops can be grown on a single farmland, of which is much easier to manage irrigation
- Higher crop resistance to plant pests – plants grown near each other are more immune to pests
- Better soil properties – growing of different crops on the same land enhances the soil properties, making it more suitable for crop production
- Soil erosion control
- Increased biodiversity – growing a variety of plants on the same land increases local biodiversity
- Meets the food demands – a polyculture system requires less land to produce more food
Polyculture crop production minimizes risks and provides stable and quality yields. There are few ways to implement a polyculture system into farming:
Multiple cropping is the farm system in which farmers grow two or more crops on the same field during one calendar year. Arable crops, vegetables, fiber, or fodder crops are repetitively grown one after the other. Usually, after the main crop is harvested it is followed by the planting of the next, and so until the year is over.
Multiple cropping is the most common farm practice of smallholder farmers. This type of cropping efficiently utilizes land, water, and fertilizer, which results in more crops being produced and more profitable farm production.
Intercropping is a form of multiple cropping in which two or more crops simultaneously occupy the same field. In this system, an additional crop is planted in the unused spaces throughout the main crop in the field. Intercropping allows the farmer to grow more than one type of crop on the same piece of land and at the same time. At least two types of crops are planted and can be done in an organized or unorganized fashion.
Intercropping is usually called an agroforestry system due to the fact that small crops are planted underneath higher crops. For instance, pineapple or bananas are intercropped with date or coconut palms.
Crop rotation is a system of growing different crops, one following the other, on the same field. Crop rotation benefits both the soil and the plant. In general, it creates better growth conditions for plants, thus achieving higher and quality yields while protecting the environment.
There are many reasons why farmers should include crop rotation into their crop production:
- reduce the risk of insect pest and disease attack
- better utilization of soil nutrients; different crops take different nutrients from the soil, thus affecting soil fertility
- alternative sources of soil nitrogen
- better balance of fertility demands of various crops avoids excessive depletion of soil nutrients
- facilitated weed control
- improved soil fertility
- reduced soil erosion
- reduced risk of water contamination by agricultural chemical
- preserved biodiversity
In aiming to provide enough food for the growing population, a few aspects must be considered; available farmland, farm technology, and the crop production system. Since much of the world’s arable land is already in crop production, the only solution is in the proper selection of a crop production system, one such as polyculture, as well as farm technology used, such as precise machinery, drones, crop sensors, smart irrigation, and modern farm management software.
Farmers practice polyculture crop production in order to minimize production risks and ultimately provide a stable source of income and nutrition while at the same time maximizing economic and energy returns using primarily local farm technology.
Be part of those who manage sustainable farming to provide a better livelihood for the future generations.
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