The benefits of introducing herbaceous crops among mandarin trees

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A Diverfarming Project study compares the environmental footprint and economic performance of traditional mandarin monoculture versus growing mandarin in combination with herbaceous crops and using deficit irrigation

The transformation towards intensive agriculture has led to agricultural practices in Europe that have focused on increasing yield and reducing costs in recent decades, and which involve a major reliance on external sources of agrochemicals and energy. These intensive monoculture systems have generated biodiversity loss, water contamination and high rates of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as land degradation and reduced ecosystem services.

Faced with this situation, the European project Diverfarming has experimented with crop diversification across the European Union, researching best practices for combining crops and focusing on the reduction of inputs to find the best options to preserve the sustainability of crops. systems and increase the resilience of the European agricultural sector. To do this, it is also necessary to know the impacts of these practices both at the environmental and economic level.

With the aim of knowing the environmental footprint and economic performance of the introduction of herbaceous crops in mandarin alleys using controlled deficit irrigation in a mandarin grove located in the region of Murcia, a team of researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena carried out a crop life cycle assessment and an assessment of farm costs and revenues for the three years that this case study experiment was conducted.

Although the cultivated area has increased with the introduction of herbaceous crops (i.e. purslane, cowpea, fava beans and barley-vetch mixture), no adverse effects have been observed in terms of resource depletion, acidification or global warming. Therefore, the practice of intercropping did not cause additional contamination or other environmental impacts. This, together with the results of increased nitrogen and organic and soil carbon content and reduced erosion and runoff, makes the introduction of herbaceous crops into mandarin alleys a good sustainable environmental option to face the current challenges of the sector.

On the economic level, the financial security of the agricultural community also becomes a key element for the successful adoption of diversified systems. This study highlights, through economic evaluation, that intercropping can lead to increased production costs, mainly related to a greater demand for labor compared to monoculture. However, the study also concludes that “the correct choice of intercropping practices can bring economic benefits.” The results showed that growing mandarin with purslane and broad beans as intercrops could be profitable and reduce the risk for the grower in the face of price volatility of the main crop.

Thus, considering all the potential environmental and economic benefits of intercropping practices, these systems present themselves as a tool to move towards more sustainable and profitable agricultural systems. The promotion of more environmentally friendly agricultural products by consumers and the support of public funding (for example, direct aid to farmers who introduce intercropping) are key elements to promote the adoption of these practices.

The research has been published in Agriculture.


Intercropping melon and cowpea improves soil nutrients and increases melon yields


More information:

Bernardo Martin-Gorriz et al, Intercropping practices in Mediterranean mandarin orchards from an environmental and economic perspective, Agriculture (2022). DOI: 10.3390/agriculture12050574

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University of Cordoba

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Positive for the environment and for the producer: the advantages of introducing herbaceous crops among mandarin trees (2022, May 17)
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