Simulating potential growth in a relay-strip intercropping system: Model description, calibration and testing

Fang Gou, Martin K. van Ittersum, Wopke van der Werf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Intercropping tends to have a higher productivity than traditional sole crops, mainly due to complementary resource use in time and space among different species. Intercropping may become more important in a world that needs to produce 60–70% more food by 2050 with limited land and other agricultural resources. To assess the role of intercropping in agricultural systems and its contribution to future food security, an intercrop model is needed for growth and yield predictions of intercrops under different growing conditions. Strip intercropping is a prevalent intercropping system, but the existing intercrop models are generally built for full mixtures and are less suitable for strip intercrops. Here we describe a simple intercrop model which is developed based on a sole crop model using the radiation use efficiency (RUE) concept and a strip intercrop light partitioning module. The model allows simulating the growth and yield of each intercropped species in relay-strip intercropping under potential growing conditions (only competition for light; other resources are assumed to be non-limiting), and the intercrop could vary in species combination, planting configuration, sowing densities and sowing dates. The daily inputs of the model are temperature and radiation, and crop-specific parameters are required to simulate crop leaf area index (LAI), biomass and final yield. Data collected during two years (2013 and 2014) field experiments were used to calibrate and test the model. The experiments consisted of two sole crop treatments (sole wheat, SW and sole maize, SM) and three intercrop treatments (replacement intercrop, 6:2WM and add-row intercrops, 8:2WM and 6:3WM). The experiments were conducted in Wageningen, the Netherlands. Data of sole crops (SW and SM) and replacement intercrop (6:2WM) treatment were used to calibrate the model, and data of add-row intercrops (8:2WM and 6:3WM) were used to test the model. Bayesian analysis was applied to calibrate RUE of wheat and maize in sole crops and intercrop. This calibration procedure resulted in posterior distributions of RUE for sole crops and intercrop, on the basis of which distributions of biomass and land equivalent ratio (LER) were simulated. Biomass accumulation and yield of each species were simulated adequately but LAI was slightly overestimated compared to observations. The intercrop model allows simulating the contribution of border row effects to the productivity of intercrops. It combines a simple structure with easy calibration and enables growth and yield simulations for a wide range of relay-strip intercrops. The model thus can be of value in exploratory land use studies to assess the role of intercropping.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-142
JournalField Crops Research
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Bayesian method
  • Intercropping model
  • Maize
  • Relay-strip intercrop
  • Wheat

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