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Polyculture Farming: methods, advantages, and disadvantages

Polyculture farming
8 mins read |

Polyculture in agriculture is best defined as the practice of planting several kinds of crop species on the same piece of land and at the same time. Choosing to adopt polyculture tries to imitate the diversity found in the natural ecosystems. Another name for polycropping is intercropping, and this is the opposite of monoculture whereby only one species of crop and even animals are kept together.

Polyculture farming: methods, advantages, and disadvantages

Besides that, polycropping is also perceived to be capable of minimizing pests, diseases, and even weeds and also limits the use of pesticides across the farm. Non-legumes together with intercrops of legumes have higher chances of adjusting the produce on low-nitrogen soils through biological nitrogen fixation.

As opposed to that, it also can lower crop yields through competition among mixed-species for resources such as water, nutrients, and also light. Apart from that, it further complicates the handling of the entire farm since different species possess conflicting growth pace, harvest needs, and also days to maturity.

Monocultures also are considered to be amenable to mechanization. Due to the above-described reasons, several farmers in large-scale agriculture prefer to adopt monocultures and manage them through crop rotation to include diversity in this kind of farming.

Polycropping farming methods

1. Multiple cropping

This farming technique is also known by some as double-cropping. It simply involves the growth of crops on the same piece of land through a single growing season. Immediately the crops are harvested, you will need to plant the next crops as fast as possible or if possible, then immediately.

The newly grown crops continue after the harvests are done at the end of the growing season. Main crops that are grown in multi-cropping systems are arable crops, fiber, and even vegetables. Small or ordinary farmers tend to use polycropping since they can efficiently use the fertilizer, water, and land.

2. Relay cropping (modified double-cropping)

This is an altered version of double cropping. It is not the same since your crops are grown before the harvest of your initial crops. In other words, all of the crops will have to share a section of the growing season, aiding to adjust the solar radiation and also the present heat for all of the crops.

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As you read this, relay cropping is gaining momentum as several farmers across the world specialize in planting corn for seed, winter wheat crops, and even soybean.

3. Intercropping

It is the growth of several crops whereby two or even more different crops will cover the same piece of land simultaneously. Here, you first grow the main crop. You then proceed by growing the second crop in the spaces left.

Usually, farmers who use this method do use a minimum of two different crops at the same time. Another name for intercropping is agroforestry because smaller crops are always grown below those that grow higher. This method is suitable in places that have a low amount of land available for farming.

Crops are also grown in an organized style or even mixed randomly. The most suitable crop species for this method are the legumes. This is because they insert atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, aiding lower the use of fertilizer.

4. Cover cropping

Just as the name goes, cover crops are grown to cover the soil. The main aim is to use them to conserve the soil’s surface from getting carried away by the wind, water erosions and also prevent the weeds from growing in the field.

Their top growths aid in covering the soil surface and their roots holding and stabilizing the soil particles. Cover crops are also widely used to generate green manure.

At the end of their growth, you may choose to till them into the soil to offer nutrients back to the soil as they also adjust your soil’s traits such as aeration and even water retention.

5. Crop rotation

Here, you plant a different kind of crop every time in a crop rotation system at certain intervals on the same field. Polycropping is important not to grow a similar type of crop on the land for two years. Waiting lets the soil regenerate between growing a similar crop. It also offers better conditions for both the crop and the soil.

Benefits of polyculture farming

1. Saving on resources

Several years back before polyculture, the primary farming technique was monoculture. This means that a given section of land was used for growing one kind of crop. For instance, corn would only be grown together with corn crops and also kales would only grow with kale crops.

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The drawback with this kind of method is that a farmer would require large sections of the field to divide the crops. A complicated irrigation system would also be needed to water the crops across large tracts of land.

A farmer may also have a smaller section of land with a similar output of crops and also possess a more efficient irrigation system.

2. Plant competition

When the soil is meant for several crops, crops always grow stronger. This may appear to be counter-intuitive because people always argue that several plants eat more nutrients at a faster rate. But the crops rather seem to focus on what looks like competition over the soil.

Besides that, the roots of crops and even vegetables always grow thicker with the aim of covering as much soil as they can. With all that happening, the plants grow healthier and offer better yields. As the crops move closer to one another, their immune systems increase.

Research has polycropping that plants that belong to different species when coming closer to another, fight diseases more easily as compared to those in monoculture.

Polyculture farming disadvantages

1. Control Issues

The main drawback of polyculture is the number of control challenges one has over the crops. As opposed to a single plot where one species of the crop would grow, it involves a plot whereby several species of crops are grown.

Here, the farmer must work in a more compact space with several kinds of crops growing altogether. A farmer may also know only how to handle one kind of species and doesn’t have enough knowledge to manage the remaining others.

Polyculture Farming: advantages and disadvantages

2. Equipment

There is some polyculture that needs an investment in some equipment to aid control of the land. This is commonly used in polyculture applications in fish farms. The farmer will have to dedicate more time and also on the infrastructure to make it work.

The plot land should be large enough, have a perfect irrigation system, and also physical and even chemical products to help support the growth.

Monoculture vs Polyculture farming methods

Monocultures consume high quantities of synthetic chemicals for handling pests and also offer nutrients to your crops. It helps get rid of lots of these synthetic inputs in your garden and escalates for a better manageable gardening system.

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After some time, it finishes the soil health, unlike polycultures that heighten your soil’s health after some time. Polycropping also lowers the risks and offers you one with stable and also high-quality produce. Numerous methods can be used to introduce this system into your field.

Similarities between monoculture and polyculture agriculture

The only existing major similarity between these two methods is that you are planting some vegetation. Both of them involve the use of fungicides, fertilizers, and even pesticides. However, monoculture consumes more quantities as compared to polyculture.

Whenever you need to shift to organic farming while increasing the biodiversity of your farm, shifting towards a polyculture system is one of the best moves to make. You can also choose to use polycultures in a crop rotation or even use them as green manure to adjust your general soil’s fertility and also nutrient level.

It was used commonly across the globe tracing back to up to 70 years ago. From there, then, monocultures began spreading across the United States, Europe, and then Canada.

As much as it enable farmers to increase their harvests, polycropping also has severe impacts on the environment and also the general health of the soils. For you to estimate all your farming outcomes, then, try some of our Agricultural tools.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the opposite of monoculture? Why is polyculture better than it?

The opposite of monoculture is polyculture. Unlike monoculture, which involves growing a single crop in a large area, polyculture refers to the practice of cultivating multiple crops together in the same field.

Polyculture promotes biodiversity, enhances ecological resilience, and reduces the risk of crop failure. By combining different plant species, it mimics natural ecosystems and allows for beneficial interactions between plants, such as pest control, nutrient sharing, and improved soil health.

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