Intercropping maize and wheat with conservation agriculture principles improves water harvesting and reduces carbon emissions in dry areas.

Hu, F., Gan, Y.T., Cui, H., Zhao, C., Feng, F., Yin, W., and Chai, Q. (2016). "Intercropping maize and wheat with conservation agriculture principles improves water harvesting and reduces carbon emissions in dry areas.", European Journal of Agronomy, 74, pp. 9-17. doi : 10.1016/j.eja.2015.11.019  Access to full text

Abstract

In arid and populated areas or countries, water shortage and heavy carbon emissions are threatening agricultural sustainability with food security severely, and becoming a major issue. It is unclear whether improved farming systems can be developed to tackle those issues through a sustainable agriculture. Here three farming practices that have proven to be essential and successful, which were: (a) crop intensification through strip intercropping, (b) water harvesting through conservation tillage; and (c) carbon sequestration through improved crop residue management options, were integrated in one cropping system. We hypothesize that the integrated system allows the increase of crop yields with improved water use efficiency, while reducing carbon emissions from farming. The hypothesis was tested in field experiments at Hexi Corridor (37°96′N, 102°64′E) in northwest China. We found that the integrated system increased soil moisture (mm) by 7.4% before sowing, 10.3% during the wheat–maize co-growth period, 8.3% after wheat harvest, and 9.2% after maize harvest, compared to the conventional sole cropping systems. The wheat/maize intercrops increased net primary production by 68% and net ecosystem production by 72%; and when combined with straw mulching on the soil surface, it decreased carbon emissions by 16%, compared to the monoculture maize without mulch. The wheat/maize intercrops used more water but increased grain yields by 142% over the monoculture wheat and by 23% over the monoculture maize, thus, enhancing water use efficiency by an average of 26%. We conclude that integrating strip intercropping, conservation tillage as well as straw mulching in one cropping system can significantly boost crop yields, improve the use efficiency of the limited water resources in arid areas, while, lowering the carbon emissions from farming. The integrated system may be considered in the development of strategies for alleviating food security issues currently experienced in the environment-damaged and water-shortage areas.

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