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Agronomic performance of no-tillage relay intercropping with maize under smallholder conditions in Central Brazil

Balde A.B., Scopel E., Affholder F., Corbeels M., Macena Da Silva F.A., Valadares Xavier J.H., Wery J.. 2011. Field Crops Research, 124 (2) : p. 240-251.

DOI: 10.1016/j.fcr.2011.06.017

In the context of conservation agriculture on small scale farms of the Brazilian Cerrado, we hypothesized that planting a cover crop in relay with a commercial crop improves the efficiency of use of available natural resources, increasing biomass for use as fodder without reducing the grain yield of the main crop. The objective of this study was to measure the performance of two intercropped systems in terms of total above-ground biomass production and maize (Zea mays) grain yield: pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) and Brachiaria (Brachiaria ruziziensis) sown as cover crops in established maize under a no-tillage management. The cover crops were sown at two different dates and a comparison was made with the three crops sown as a sole crop at the early sowing date. The experiment was conducted during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 growing seasons. Maize grain yield was not reduced by the presence of the relay cover crops in comparison with maize as the sole crop, even when the cover crop was sown soon after maize emergence. In contrast, the production of above-ground biomass by the cover crop was significantly lower when grown with maize than it was when grown as a sole crop. In the intercropped systems, when sown early, the cover crop produced higher total biomass than when sown late. Total above-ground biomass production of maize intercropped with a cover crop was much higher than that of any of the crops sown alone: the total biomass (average of the two growing seasons) produced by maize and pigeon pea was more than double that of maize grown alone. The land equivalent ratio (LER) of maize grain yield and biomass production was higher than one whatever the intercropped system used. It was particularly high when maize was intercropped with early sown pigeon pea; grain yield LER and biomass LER reaching, respectively, 1.72 and 1.73 in 2007-2008 and 2.02 and 2.03 in 2008-2009. These high LER values provide evidence for the complementary and the high efficiency of use of available resources by the intercropped plants and thus the advantage of such systems to produce both maize grain and cover crop forage under the conditions of our study.

Mots-clés : culture intercalaire; culture sous couvert végétal; zea mays; brachiaria ruziziensis; cajanus cajan; petite exploitation agricole; non-travail du sol; minas gerais; agriculture de conservation

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