Companion Crops

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

    • Companion crops are also known as cover crops, nurse crops or competition crops. They are annual crops interseeded with perennial crops.

    • Companion crops are used to prevent soil erosion, suppress weeds, and for the production of a useable crop in the year of perennial forage establishment.

    • Companion cropping is more successful in areas that have adequate growing season precipitation.

    • Generally, the best companion crops are small grain crops, such as barley and oats, seeded at half or less than half the normal seeding rate. Occasionally, canola is used when seeding alfalfa or clover because of the open canopy at ground level and easier weed control.

    • Ideally, seed the companion crop first, and then cross seed the forage. This allows for the proper seeding depth of the different forage and crop species.

    • Companion crops compete with your forage crop for nutrients and moisture. Companion crops are not recommended on sandy soils or under dryland conditions in the Brown soil zone of western Canada, due to competition for soil moisture.

    • Companion crops can choke out the forage seedlings due to their thick growth or from the crop lodging. If sunlight does not reach the forage seedlings, growth is stunted and the stand could fail.

    • There are no seeding rates for forage and companion crops that will produce maximum yields for both. Increasing the seeding rate of one tends to increase its production at the expense of the other.

    • Year-to-year variation in weather has the greatest effect on the relationship between seeding rates, yields of companion crops, and the establishment success of the under-seeded forages.

    • When planning to seed forage mixtures and a companion crop, remember the need to ensure the two complement each other in terms of controlling weeds in that first year.

    • If you use a companion crop, harvest it early for either silage or greenfeed. If the companion crop is allowed to reach full maturity it will weaken the under-seeded forage or cause a stand failure.

    • Be careful not to harvest the cover crop when it is very hot. Forage seedlings are very susceptible to high temperatures and burn easily.

Fact Sheets

Companion Crop Competition

Italian Ryegrass as a Companion for Alfalfa Seeding

Establishment: Seeding with a Companion Crop

The Use of Companion Crops to establish Forages in Western Canada - available in PDF format only

Research Papers

Barley and triticale underseeded with kura clover living mulch: Effects on weed pressure, disease incidence, silage yield and forage quality - available in PDF format only

Companion crop establishment of short-lived perennial forage crops in Saskatchewan - available in PDF format only

Influence of Seed Size, Planting Depth and Companion Crop on Emergence and Vigour of Seedlings in Sweet Clover

Legume Cover Crops with Winter Cereals in Southern Manitoba: Establishment, Productivity and Microclimate Effects

Research in Western Canada on seeding forages with a Companion Crop- available in PDF format only

Short-lived intercrop forages affect long-term yields of alfalfa and wildrye grass mixtures

Suitability of Legume Cover Crop-Winter Wheat Intercrops on the Semi-Arid Canadian Prairies

  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This information published to the web on November 26, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on March 2, 2017.

Home | Contact Us | Privacy Statement
The user agrees to the terms and conditions set out in the Copyright and Disclaimer © 2003 - 2018 Her Majesty the Queen