Producers are continuously fine-tuning their production practices, seeking ways to use labor and capital more efficiently and increase profit while protecting the environment. This includes making better and more efficient purchasing decisions and developing improved marketing strategies to create more profit from their farming operation.
There are many techniques to enhance food production such as increasing cropping intensity, adopting hydroponics and using inputs in balanced amounts with effective plant protection measures. However, among them, multiple cropping is the most effective technique. Relay cropping (inter-cropping) entails growing two crops on the same piece of land, at least for a part of the season.
Types of Multiple Cropping
There are many types of multiple cropping like intercropping, mixed cropping, relay cropping, agro forestry and green manuring etc.
Intercropping means the growing of more than one crop in rows where the minor crops are planted between the rows of major crop. For instance, the crops like canola, mustard, garlic, tobacco, watermelon, muskmelon, etc. can be successfully intercropped with sugarcane crop. The crops in intercropping may have a different sowing and harvesting time.
The second type of multiple cropping is mixed cropping which comprises simultaneous growing of two or more crops on the same piece of land with same sowing, maturity and harvesting time. Mixed cropping is especially important for fodder crops where it can provide enormous quantities of feedstuff for supporting sustainable livestock production. Mixed cropping of oat and berseem is suitable for enhancing fodder stuff to feed livestock.
Relay cropping is another type of intercropping where second crop is sown while the first crop is near maturity. This practice is beneficial in terms of resolving time conflict for plantation of various crops. For example delayed sowing is an important reason for yield decline in wheat crop that can be avoided through relay cropping of wheat in standing cotton crop. Relay cropping can also fetch certain other benefits such as usage of residual moisture from the previous crop and reduced planting costs..
Annual herbaceous crops are grown interspersed with perennial trees or shrubs. The deeper-rooted trees can often exploit water and nutrients otherwise unavailable to the crops. The trees may also provide shade and mulch, creating a microenvironment, whilst the ground cover of crops reduces weeds and prevents erosion
The growing of legumes and other plants to fix nitrogen and then incorporate the nutrients into the soil for the following crop. Commonly used green manures are Sesbania and the fern Azolla, which contains nitrogen-fixing, blue-green algae in ricefields.
This technique makes effective use of inputs such as soil, water, fertilizer etc. Thus output per unit area increases with manifold returns to the growers.Multiple cropping can be done in annual food crops, fodders, vegetables, fruit plants and perennial crops. It could enable the country to be self-sufficient in food production and export the surplus to generate revenue to finance the cost of other projects Crops are prone to insect pest attacks which may cause reduction in crop yield and losses. With multiple cropping, incidence of crop failure owing to biotic agents is minimized. One crop may provide cover to the other against such agents through biological control. For example, canola is intercropped with wheat to shift aphid from wheat to canola, and okra intercropped with cotton diverts insect pests towards the latter.
Multiple cropping could also help in maintaining soil fertility provided suitable crops such as legumes are included in the cropping system. For example intercropping of a legume crop with others could increase the process of nitrogen fixation that would enhance the nutrient status of the soil.
Multiple cropping narrows the space available for weeds to grow and hamper their growth through exudation of allelochemicals. Nevertheless, weeds are the hidden enemy of crops imparting irreversible damages to resources. Weed's suppression through multiple cropping will thus lead to enhanced food production. Multiple cropping also reduces the soil erosion.
There are certain demerits of multiple cropping. One potential demerit is that sometimes the insect pests and diseases get more favorable environment to flourish, thus diminishing and deteriorating crop yields. Inter-cultural practices are sometimes difficult to be carried out in the crops grown together. In case of inter cropping completion between plants increases for uptake of inputs therefore large amount of inputs are required. Harvesting of one crop is difficult because it disturbs others.