Mixed Grain Intercropping and Variable Rate Seeding

Mixed grain intercropping has become a commercially significant practice in the production of grains, oilseeds, and pulse commodities on the Canadian Prairies and U.S. Northern Plains during the past decade. Mixed grain intercropping entails the seeding, growing, and harvesting of two or more cash crop simultanously. The mixed grain is then separated after harvest and marketed as individual commodities. While intercropping has various historical and current uses in the region, mixed grain intercropping is a relatively new strategy for cash crop diversification. Mixed grain intercropping is not suitable for every situation, but it does have the potential to provide agronomic and financial benefits when compared to monocrop commodity production. Further information on mixed grain intercropping can be found here.

Variable rate seeding is becoming more common on the Canadian Prairies and U.S. Northern Plains thanks to its potential to reduce seed costs and increase yield. Variable Rate Seeding requires the establishment of zones based on landscape position, soil characteristics, and previous crop year performance. It takes a significant amount of working knowledge of a field’s topographical and soil characteristics and mapping work to establish zones and build agronomic presciptions based on these zones. At the same time, seeding equipment must have the capability to change seeding rates on the fly based on zone prescriptions along with double or triple shoot openers on drill row units (with appropriate plumbing from the seed tanks), and two or more seed tanks. Further information on variable rate seeding can be found here.

A small number of farm operations on the Canadian Prairies and U.S. Northern Plains have combined mixed grain intercropping with variable rate seeding. The oat-pea combination is especially well-suited to variable rate seeding. Peas can be favored in the stand in drier areas while oats can be favored in wetter areas. Variable seeding rates for oats and peas should reflect different topographical and soil conditions across a field. When applied appropriately, variable rate seeding can translate into lower overall seed costs and higher overall yields. The same principles could be applied to other intercrop combinations such as lentil-pea-canola or chickpea-flax.

Mixed grain intercropping requires changes to a farm’s production systems and grain handling practices while variable rate seeding requires seeding equipment modification and well-developed field zone maps. But in the right situation, the merging of mixed grain intercropping and variable rate seeding can provide a significant enough financial advantage to make combining these practices worth the time, cost, and labor.

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