Helping Chinese farmers tackle erosion, increase profits | 9/13/2017 | Staff
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Intercropping maize and chili to improve economic and environmental stability -- a recipe for success? Credit: Bozhi Wu.

On the steep farming slopes of China, Bozhi Wu and his research associates are finding ways to improve economic and environmental stability.

Research - Team - Use - Crop - Season—on

The research team studied the use of intercropping—growing more than one crop per season—on hilly land. They focused on a staple grain crop, corn. They compared intercropping the corn with either setaria grass, used in forage, or chili peppers. The results, you could say, will spice up Chinese farmers' methods.

Over a four year period, the research team measured runoff, erosion, and economic return for four different types of cropping systems. They compared only corn (maize), only chili, and then intercropping corn with chili and corn with setaria grass. The land researched was in the Yunnan Province of southwest China. All fields were rain-fed, with no irrigation.

Erosion - Soil - Fertility - Productivity - Wu

"Reducing erosion can sustain or increase soil fertility and productivity," says Wu. "We researched intercropping systems that could reduce erosion, stabilize food production, and increase farmers' incomes."

Intercropping can benefit the soil in several ways. The additional soil cover provided by the second crop helps reduce erosion. The plants help soak up extra water and nutrients. This additional "pull" of the nutrients can help reduce runoff of the nutrients into adjacent land. Finally, growing different crops on the soil increases the biodiversity. This can help with pest and disease control. But Wu's research pointed to another huge incentive.

Corn - Grown - Grass - Reduces - Erosion

Corn grown with setaria grass intercropped reduces erosion, but has less economic return than the corn & chili system. Credit: Bozhi Wu.

And it's not just monetary benefits that intercropping brings. In southwest China, over 440,000 km2 are affected...
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