Difference Between Mixed Cropping and Intercropping

Intercropping can be defined as the practice of growing two or more crops in proximity, which means that the crops are grown in the same piece of land and simultaneously in specific row patterns. It reduces the risk of crop failure.

Types of Intercropping:

There are three types of intercropping:

  • Row planting: There are at least two types of vegetable plants with at least one in rows.
  • Mixed intercropping: It is known as basic interplanting, it involves planting two crop together and not using rows.
  • Relay planting: When the first crop is about to mature, the second crop is sown.

There are many benefits of intercropping. Some of them are explained below.

  • Resource partitioning: Taking a single piece of land and growing different crops on it requires different strategies. Factors such as soil, climate and crop varieties should be taken into consideration. However if done correctly, intercropping shows many agronomic benefits.
  • Mutualism: Growing two plants can be beneficial for both plants with respect to their fitness and yield. In multi-tier systems, coconuts and bananas are produced in the upper and middle-tier respectively, pineapple, ginger and other medicinal or aromatic plants occupy the lowest tier. It encourages biodiversity by providing a habitat for a wide range of soil microorganisms and insects that would not be seen in a single-crop environment.
  • Pest management: Crop diversity also improves pest management. Intercropping limits outbreaks of crop pests as it increases predator biodiversity. There are multiple ways pests can be controlled by intercropping.
  • Trap cropping: This involves planting a support crop which will attract insects and keep them away from the production crop.
  • Repellent intercrops: This involves planting a supporting crop which will act as a repellent and mask the smell of the production crop and keep insects away from them.
  • Push-pull cropping: This type of cropping uses the advantages of both trap and repellent cropping.

What is Mixed Cropping?

Mixed cropping, also known as multiple cropping, is similar to intercropping and involves growing two or more crops simultaneously on the same piece of land.  This type of cropping method can improve the fertility of the soil and increases crop yield. The products and waste from one crop plant help in the growth of the other crop plant and vice-versa. This method of crop production is insurance against crop failure in abnormal weather conditions. It helped farmers to improve crop yield and economy and avoid crop failure which was common in India and Asian countries.
A farmer plants one line of one crop, then a line of another crop and in this way, both crops can grow better.  For example, if in one line the crop is a legume and in another line, it is the main crop then the main crop takes the nitrogen from the soil and the legume replenishes the nitrogen content in the soil. Nitrogen is fixed in the root nodules of the leguminous plants keep the soil fertile by fixing the soil nitrogen in the form of nitrates. This helps the farmers to produce large quantities of crops without the nitrogen being depleted from the soil.
Multiple-cropping patterns can be described by the number of crops produced per year and the intensity of crop overlap. Double or triple cropping signifies systems with two or three crops planted simultaneously with no overlap in the growth cycle. It is not the same as crop rotation in which different crops are planted in the same field in different years. Crop rotation can reduce soil fertility as some plants can add nitrogen in the soil and some take it out.
An example of mixed cropping is that of the American three crop plants: beans, maize and cucurbits (pumpkins and squash). They are also known as the three sisters. These crops were domesticated at different times however, they were combined afterwards to form an important component of Native American agriculture and cuisine. The mixed cropping method has been historically documented by the Iroquois and the Seneca tribes in the United States and is said to begin sometime after 1000 C.E.
Although both methods may look similar, there are many distinguishing characteristics between mixed cropping and intercropping. We will discuss them below.

Differentiate Between Mixed Cropping and Intercropping

Mixed cropping Intercropping
It is a system or agricultural technique of sowing two or three crops together on the same land. In intercropping, two or three crops are grown in proximity.
It is aimed to minimise crop failure. It is aimed to improve the productivity of a unit area.
The seeds are mixed before they are sown. The seeds are not mixed before sowing.
All crops are sown at the same time. The crops can be sown in different periods.
There are no set patterns or columns in sowing Sowing is grouped in different columns or patterns.
Equal importance or emphasis is given to all crops sown. Only the main crop is given importance.
Applying fertiliser to a specific crop is difficult. Fertilisers can be applied easily to the main crop.
Pest control is difficult. Pest controls are easier in intercropping.
All sown crops have a similar life cycle and maturation period. The main crop and the intercrop show differences in their life cycles and maturation period.
Crop harvesting is difficult Crops are harvested separately which makes it easy.
Threshing is not possible as crops are harvested together. Threshing is possible as crops are harvested together.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. What is threshing?

A: Threshing is the process of separating or loosening the edible part of grains from straw and husks by mechanical forces. It is done for corn and other crops. It may be done by beating the grain using a flail on the threshing floor.

  1. What are the benefits of mixed cropping?

A: The benefits or advantages of mixed cropping are:

  • Farmers can continuously sow crops on their field and keep them under production.
  • There is less usage of artificial fertiliser
  • When there is geographic mixing of crops it can help slow the spread of diseases and pests during growing seasons.
  • According to t many research studies there’s a 10%-15% increase in yield.
  • The biomass becomes more nutrient-rich over time.
  1. What are the limitations of intercropping?

A: Some limitation of disadvantages of intercropping are:

  • High amounts of fertiliser and water cannot be used properly as the main and the intercrop would have different responses to these resources.
  • Managing intercropping systems are difficult.

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