Liz DePapeComment

A Learning Series on The Economics of Intercropping in 2019

Liz DePapeComment
A Learning Series on The Economics of Intercropping in 2019

Innovative Learning Series To Demonstrate The Economics Of Inter-cropping For Superior Profitability In 2019

REGINA, Saskatchewan, March 15, 2019 — ‘Regenerative agriculture’ is an exciting new trend bringing farmers and food consumers into full agreement on the importance of growing crops on healthy soils. However, it can be hard for conventional farmers to find the on-ramp to participate in emerging opportunities around this trend, says Brenda Tjaden, Founder and CEO of Sustainable Grain.

“There’s something for everyone in the regenerative agriculture space,” says Tjaden. “All that remains is for farmers to understand the economics and tactics involved in implementing change.”

Sustainable Grain is partnering with Lana Shaw from the Southeast Saskatchewan Research Farm and Joel Williams of Integrated Soils to deliver a comprehensive one-day workshop on the novel regenerative practice of intercropping, taking place in Regina on April 9th. The course is designed for agronomists and farmers planning to switch acres into intercrops in 2019, and looking to hone their knowledge, network, and tactics heading into the growing season.

To register for the course, please visit the event page here.

“Our research is showing promising results on how intercropping can make fields more resilient and more profitable.” says Shaw. “I am regularly coaching farmers on how to make changes on their farms, and Intercrop Innovators (#IntercropInnovators), works cooperatively to learn how to commercialize and produce at scale efficiently.”   

Many farmers feel that regenerative agriculture could be better defined, as it lacks the standard and audit trail that organic markets rely on to trade at premium prices. Williams, a world-renowned educator and soil health expert, urges farmers to get started anyway. 

“Intercropping ticks a few boxes for farmers moving towards regenerative cropping systems: it introduces biodiversity, more living roots in the soil, less exposed ground, etc,” says Williams. “As long as spring and fall field activities are minimally disruptive, intercropping can go a long ways towards establishing a healthier soil profile for future years.”

Sustainable Grain creates crop budgets for novel regenerative practices such as intercropping and green manures. In these cases, the investment and paybacks are measured across multiple years, which offers a more complete analysis of optimal land management than ranking crop profitability one year at a time.

For more information, please contact Liz DePape at (204) 470-4915 or visit www.sustainablegrain.ca.

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For more information:
Liz DePape
204-470-4915
liz.depape@sustainablegrain.ca

Background

What is an intercrop? 

This is the practice of planting multiple crop species together on the same field. There are pros and cons to intercropping compared to cultivating a mono-crop.

Cons include the fact that intercropping is more complicated. The timing of seeding and harvest operations gets trickier, spraying options are relatively or totally limited, and the intercrop has to be separated before it can be marketed.

However, the benefits of intercropping appear to exceed the costs. A biodiverse plant species mix has natural resilience to diseases; and an intercrop’s denser stand competes well with weeds, which is why farmers growing intercrops can accomplish the same or better revenues than with monocrops, while using less herbicides and fungicides.

What is Regenerative Agriculture? 

Loose definitions of regenerative agriculture are abound, all of which revolve around improving soil health as measured by soil organic matter, carbon sequestration and/or water retention/infiltration. Tactics include pasturing land, green and brown manure, and keeping soil covered at all times, ideally with a diverse mix of plant species and with a minimum amount of tillage, to support the activity of living roots.

How Does Regenerative Agriculture Compare to Traditional Cropping Systems? 

The economic difference between regenerative and conventional farming systems is that the investments and tactics used to restore a healthy soil profile, and future yields, pay off over multiple years. The single-season decision-making window that characterizes conventional grain production may fail to consider the long-term consequences that certain production activities have on the soil and surrounding environment.

For example, in single-year profitability analysis, monocrop canola or wheat often ranks at or very near the top, leading farms to choose this simple rotation, year after year. Within this framework there’s no place to incorporate the long-term agronomic costs that mount up over time when species diversity is reduced.

How Does Regenerative Agriculture Fit Within the Organic Standard?

Currently ‘regenerative organic’ is a proposed standard, not an established label claim. It includes several tiers of compliance and labour management standards in addition to organic and regenerative field practices. The U.S. and European organic industries are leading efforts to implement regenerative aspects into organic food production standards. In Canada, regenerative and organic farming advocates differ in opinion on the impacts of minimum tillage versus herbicides.

Why Should Farmers Try Intercropping? 

Intercropping is beneficial, economically and agronomically, for conventional and organic farms alike. Conventional farms can use it to create multiple revenue streams from the same fields and to reduce pesticide and fertilizer costs. Organic farms deploy intercropping in the transition and certified years to help manage weeds and disease and to boost soil and plant ecosystem health overall within their ecologically designed systems.

The weaknesses in systems that rely too heavily on monocropping are subtle, but they come with real future costs and limitations to farm profitability. Regenerative agriculture holds the promise of restoring flexibility and resiliency into crop systems by leveraging biodiversity, and natural soil biology, to replace externally applied crop inputs.

April 9th Workshop Agenda

8-8:20 — Opening Remarks, Brenda Tjaden

8:20-9:15 — Soils Alive: Managing Soil Biology to Support Intercrops, Joel Williams

9:15-10 — The Sensibilities of Intercropping in the Current Ag Climate, Lana Shaw

10-10:15 — Coffee

10:15-11:15 — Intercropping Failures and Successes; Yields; Input Costs, Farmer Panel

11:15-noon — ROI Analysis of Intercrops and Green Manures, Brenda Tjaden

12-12:30 — Lunch

12:30-1:15 — Plant & Soil Nutrition: Transitioning Towards Low Input Nutrient Management Systems, Joel Williams

1:15-2 — Redvers Intercrop Research and Changing Crop Adaptation Areas, Lana Shaw

2-2:30 – Case Studies of Regenerative and Organic Farm Intercrop Budgets, Brenda Tjaden

2:30-3:15 — Exploration of Budgeting Framework and Assumptions, Farmer Panel

3:15-3:30 — Coffee

3:30-4:30 — Regeneration with Redesign: Using the ESR Framework for Step-Wise Change Towards Agroecology (Efficiency, Substitution, Redesign), Joel Williams

4:30-5 — Closing Remarks, Brenda Tjaden

To register for the course, please visit the event page here.