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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Relay cropping for sustainable intensification of agriculture across temperate regions: Crop management challenges and future research priorities

Lamichhane, Jay Ram; Alletto, Lionel; Cong, Wen-Feng; Dayoub, Elana; Maury, Pierre; Plaza-Bonilla, Daniel; Reckling, Moritz; Saia, Sergio; Soltani, Elias; Tison, Gilles; Debaeke, Philippe


Relay cropping (RC) is a multiple cropping system that consists in planting a second crop into a standing first crop prior to its harvest. RC has potential to address food security and environmental sustainability via spatio-temporal diversification of cropping systems. Key potential benefits of RC include increased crop productivity, net economic returns, land use efficiency, soil fertility, efficient nutrient cycling, and pest control (pests sensu lato that include animal pests, pathogens and weeds). Despite these potential benefits, RC is poorly adopted worldwide, especially in Europe, compared to other forms of innovative cropping systems including cover- and inter-cropping. Here we review the literature to assemble information on key factors affecting the performance of RC by focusing on field crops grown for grain harvest purpose across temperate regions. We found severe knowledge gaps on crop management issues affecting the RC performance including the crop species and genotypic traits to be efficiently combined; the RC configuration including row number and width; optimal sowing dates and densities; irrigation, fertilization, and pest management; and technical problems in the harvesting phase. We identified that while RC may represent "a very versatile system" for farmers in terms of crop management - via an efficient utilization of time, labor, and equipment - this cropping system also requires a lot of anticipation and organization even before the primary crop sowing. This increases crop management complexity for the farmers including the difficulty in managing " the competition phase " and the need for specific farming equipments. Finally, we propose three research priorities to fill the current knowledge gaps in RC research and implementation, worldwide, viz. varietal evaluation and selection, RC modelling and development of decision support systems, and technological innovation for an improved RC management.

Published in

Field Crops Research
2023, volume: 291, article number: 108795

Authors' information

Lamichhane, Jay Ram
National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)
Alletto, Lionel
National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)
Cong, Wen-Feng
China Agricultural University
Dayoub, Elana
National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)
Maury, Pierre
University of Toulouse
Plaza-Bonilla, Daniel
University of Lleida
Reckling, Moritz
Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)
Reckling, Moritz
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Crop Production Ecology
Saia, Sergio
University of Pisa
Soltani, Elias
University of Tehran
Tison, Gilles
National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)
Debaeke, Philippe
National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)

Associated SLU-program

SLU Network Plant Protection

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG13 Climate action
SDG2 Zero hunger

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)