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19 October 2022 Benefits and Risks of Intercropping for Crop Resilience and Pest Management
C. P. Huss, K. D. Holmes, C. K. Blubaugh
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To combat climate change, farmers must innovate through ecological intensification to boost food production, increase resilience to weather extremes, and shrink the carbon footprint of agriculture. Intercropping (where alternative crops or noncrop plants are integrated with cash crops) can strengthen and stabilize agroecosystems under climate change by improving resource use efficiency, enhancing soil water holding capacity, and increasing the diversity and quality of habitat for beneficial insects that provide pollination services and natural pest control. Despite these benefits, intercropping has yet to be widely adopted due to perceived risks and challenges including decreased crop yield, increased management complexity, a steep learning curve for successful management, and increased susceptibility to pests. Here, we explore the major benefits of intercropping in agricultural systems for pest control and climate resilience reported in 24 meta-analyses, while addressing risks and barriers to implementation. Most studies demonstrate clear benefits of intercropping for weed, pathogen, insect pest control, relative yield, and gross profitability. However, relatively few studies document ecosystem services conferred by intercrops alongside labor costs, which are key to economic sustainability for farmers. In addition to clearer demonstrations of the economic viability of intercropping, farmers also need strong technical and financial support during the adoption process to help them troubleshoot the site-specific complexities and challenges of managing polycultures. Ecological intensification of agriculture requires a more strategic approach than simplified production systems and is not without risks and challenges. Calibrating incentive programs to reduce financial burdens of risk for farmers could promote more widespread adoption of intercropping.

Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Entomological Society of America 2022. This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.
C. P. Huss, K. D. Holmes, and C. K. Blubaugh "Benefits and Risks of Intercropping for Crop Resilience and Pest Management," Journal of Economic Entomology 115(5), 1350-1362, (19 October 2022).
Received: 17 November 2021; Accepted: 8 March 2022; Published: 19 October 2022

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climate change
conservation biocontrol
living mulch
natural enemy
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