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Aug 22 2016

INTERCROPPING CHALLENGES AND VICTORIES FROM A SASKATCHEWAN FARMER

Some farmers like Sheldon Okerstrom like a challenge, and with intercropping a challenge is what he gets.  I had the chance to sit down with Sheldon for an interview, and for the past 6 years he has been experimenting with intercropping on his and his wife Joanne’s family farm in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.  Intercropping is growing two or more crop types on one field.  And while there are a few different intercropping methods farmers can use, the Okerstroms practice a mixed intercropping method with peas and canola. Mixed Intercropping is where two or more crop types are seeded together and harvested together.  The Okerstroms joked, “sometimes people drive by our farm and think we either made a mistake or we just have a really rough looking crop this year, most people don’t realize we meant to do this”[1].

(Read more about other intercropping methods in my blog “Intercropping: Why Some Farmers Try Something Different” here.[2])

I’m sure all my readers are wondering as I was…what makes someone decide to try intercropping?  According to my interview with Sheldon, he likes a challenge, he’s always willing to think outside the box and try new things, but his wife Joanne says it’s because he wanted to find a way to fit two crops on one piece of land! Regardless of the reason the Okerstrom’s chose intercropping for their farm, Sheldon has taken time to tell me about some of his experiences with intercropping:

 

How did you become Interested in Intercropping?

I started reading discussions on intercropping through the Combine Forum, and began researching a farmer from Midale Saskatchewan named Colin Rosengren who has been intercropping in Saskatchewan successfully since 2004[3].

 

What is different about the way you Seed and Harvest your Mixed Intercrop from your monocrop?

First, we had to make sure we have enough tanks for two different seeds and our fertilizer inputs.  We would prefer to have four tanks but we make it work with three.  Next, you have to make sure you have an opener that can triple shoot and place the dual crop and fertilizer.  When it comes time to harvest, we harvest the peas and canola together and then separate it in a rotary screen.  Then, ideally we store the canola and peas separately due to the difference in moisture content between the two (Peas are 15-16% moisture while Canola is about 10%) to prevent any spoilage.  The crop can then be stored in bags or in bins.

 

What are some of the challenges of intercropping over the last few years?

  • Finding Information has probably been our biggest battle.
  • Due to the lack of information we’ve done a lot of Trial and Error
    • What Seed Rates do we put down?  How much competition between crops is too much?
    • Fertilizer Rates – How much fertilizer do we apply to feed both crops, especially predicting how much to offset the N application due to the peas supplying the Canola with N.  I usually start with 30lbs of N and then let the peas nodulate and supply the remaining N the canola needs.
    • Finding chemicals compatible with multiple crops can be difficult.  There are plenty of chemicals for just peas or canola on their own, but far less when you need to apply an application to both.  This can make a weed resistance issue a lot more complicated and can cause you to be forced to use a chemical that may be registered for one of your intercrops, but not the other.

 

What are some of your Victories with Intercropping?

  • While you won’t reach a 40 bushel crop of canola with intercropping due to competition, it’s like getting a Free Crop because we utilize more of the seed bed.  You have to give something up to get something.
  • Peas feed the Canola with Nitrogen, while Canola gives the peas legs to stand rather than lying flat on the ground.  Saves money on inputs and no lifters needed to pick the crop up.
  • When conditions are right and all the factors properly align, these can be some our best paying crops on the farm.

 

Would you recommend Intercropping to other producers?

If you are in for a challenge and comfortable giving it a try, do your research because it does have its benefits!

 

Written and Published by Jessica Kohls, BSc, PgCE – Dutch Soil Biologist
Sources

[1] Interview with Sheldon and Joanne Okerstrom

[2] http://www.dutchopeners.com/news-events/the-benefits-of-intercropping

[3] http://www.grainews.ca/2013/10/08/six-things-to-consider-when-intercropping/