A comparison of conventional and alternative cropping systems using alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) : an agroecosystem analysis
Skelton, Laura Elizabeth
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Natural Systems Agriculture is based on an understanding that natural systems are self-sustaining due to regulatory mechanisms resulting from natural selection that ensure the long-term maintenance of all components of the ecosystem. The objective of this study was to determine if agroecosystems modeled after nature exhibit advantages over conventional agroecosystems. Five treatments were examined: wheat monoculture, alfalfa monoculture, strip-cropped alfalfa and wheat, and two alfalfa-wheat intercrops (one no-till and one conservation-till). Monocultures produced high yields, as did strip-crop and conservation-till intercrop treatments. Although yields for no-till intercrops were low, protein values were high. Soil fertility was enhanced by the presence of alfalfa. Surface decomposition decreased under conventional tillage. Insect pests preferred alfalfa and were more abundant in treatments containing high percentages of alfalfa, as were predator groups. Benefits to yield, fertility, decomposition, and pest control were observed for the alternative agroecosystems, compared to the conventional monoculture systems, studied.