Intercropping – more than just an intercropping lottery ticket

Intercropping - more than just an intercropping lottery ticket

One year is still voluntary. From 2021, the cultivation of intercrops will also be compulsory in the district of kitzingen. This is what the new dung ordinance provides for. A certain uncertainty in the profession is therefore undeniable, confirms thomas karl from the office for agriculture, food and forestry (AELF) in kitzingen. But the insecurity is not necessary. The advantages, he said, far outweigh the disadvantages.

Konstantin rother agrees. Since 2017, the schwarzenau state farm has been a demonstration farm for the water framework directive. Sounds unwieldy, but it means that this is a particularly water-saving area of operation. "And this also includes the cultivation of catch crops," explains the administrator in charge of crop cultivation.

Before summer crops, intercropping must be compulsory from next year, with a few exceptions. There will be random checks, announces the head of the AELF, gerd dull. In four to five years, satellite surveillance will be standard practice.

The best time for sowing is now, end of august, beginning of september. Konstantin rother has already applied his own seed mixture to his demonstration field in the schwarzenau area. Almost ten different grains are contained in it – mustard, phacelia and legumes, for example. The advantage: the plants develop different roots, thus loosening the soil. "This makes it easier for surface water to penetrate the deeper soil layers," explains anton lesch, water advisor at the AELF. A weighty argument, especially on the dry francophone plateau.

Ideally, the intercrops die with the winter frosts. "The organic matter in the fields is slowly building up the humus," explains konstantin rother. Of the 300 hectares that the state farm cultivates, one third has been planted with catch crops for years. Roder has identified more earthworms in the soil kingdom, better soil structure. "The soil can be worked better," he says, and anton lesch nods. The stocks of the main crops are long grass, the growth is protracted.

In addition to drought, climate change is also making special weather events, such as heavy rain or storms, more frequent. The important upper soil layers are then often washed away. The cultivation of catch crops is also a protection against erosion," emphasizes anton lesch and underlines this statement with a saying: "every stalk is a dam"."And there is another advantage to growing intercrops such as mustard, ragweed, olives or clover: nitrogen is bound and made available to the subsequent crops. "Legumes as intercrops also bind nitrogen from the air," adds thomas karl.

"The cultivation of intercrops is also a protection against erosion" anton lesch, water consultant

Why some farmers still have concerns? "The seed has to come up," says konstantin rother. A few heavy rains in the autumn are necessary for this. However, the warmer winters in the frankenland are by far the bigger problem. Intercrops do not always die naturally. "And then it naturally becomes a financial risk if the farmer has to machine hoe the crop in january or february," female thomas karl. Especially since no farmer likes to drive around on his fields when it is damp. Anton lesch advises colleagues to be patient. In nine out of ten cases, the cultivation of intercrops is proving successful. "The soil warms up later because of the organic mass and therefore can be worked a little later in the spring"."

Several mixtures have been on the market for a long time. Each location, each type of cultivation requires a different seed. "That’s a science in itself," says konstantin rother and laughs. He is hoping for as much rain as possible in the next few days and weeks so that the seeds in his demonstration field will grow well. Interested farmers can see the progress on site at any time. "Because of corona, we can’t offer a public event on site," gerd dull asks for understanding. And names a completely different beneficiary of the cultivation of catch crops: the local wildlife. Small game also finds cover in winter, insects find food.

Cultivation is also worthwhile for the home kitchen garden. "Intercrops achieve the same positive effects there as in agriculture," assures dull. For anton lesch, they are the only proven way to keep the soil healthy in the long term. Uncertainty is therefore not appropriate.