Long-term increased grain yield and soil fertility from intercropping

Xiao Fei Li, Zhi Gang Wang, Xing Guo Bao, Jian Hao Sun, Si Cun Yang, Ping Wang, Cheng Bao Wang, Jin Pu Wu, Xin Ru Liu, Xiu Li Tian, Yu Wang, Jian Peng Li, Yan Wang, Hai Yong Xia, Pei Pei Mei, Xiao Feng Wang, Jian Hua Zhao, Rui Peng Yu, Wei Ping Zhang, Zong Xian CheLin Guo Gui, Ragan M. Callaway, David Tilman, Long Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Population and income growth are increasing global food demand at a time when a third of the world’s agricultural soils are degraded and climate variability threatens the sustainability of food production. Intercropping, the practice of growing two or more spatially intermingled crops, often increases yields, but whether such yield increases, their stability and soil fertility can be sustained over time remains unclear. Using four long-term (10–16 years) experiments on soils of differing fertility, we found that grain yields in intercropped systems were on average 22% greater than in matched monocultures and had greater year-to-year stability. Moreover, relative to monocultures, yield benefits of intercropping increased through time, suggesting that intercropping may increase soil fertility via observed increases in soil organic matter, total nitrogen and macro-aggregates when comparing intercropped with monoculture soils. Our results suggest that wider adoption of intercropping could increase both crop production and its long-term sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)943-950
Number of pages8
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


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