Grain legumes, such as peas (Pisum sativum L.), are known to be weak competitors against weeds when grown as the sole crop. In this study, the weed-suppression effect of pea–barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) intercropping compared to the respective sole crops was examined in organic field experiments across Western Europe (i.e., Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy). Spring pea (P) and barley (B) were sown either as the sole crop, at the recommended plant density (P100 and B100, respectively), or in replacement (P50B50) or additive (P100B50) intercropping designs for three seasons (2003–2005). The weed biomass was three times higher under the pea sole crops than under both the intercrops and barley sole crops at maturity. The inclusion of joint experiments in several countries and various growing conditions showed that intercrops maintain a highly asymmetric competition over weeds, regardless of the particular weed infestation (species and productivity), the crop biomass or the soil nitrogen availability. The intercropping weed suppression was highly resilient, whereas the weed suppression in pea sole crops was lower and more variable. The pea–barley intercrops exhibited high levels of weed suppression, even with a low percentage of barley in the total biomass. Despite a reduced leaf area in the case of a low soil N availability, the barley sole crops and intercrops displayed high weed suppression, probably because of their strong competitive capability to absorb soil N. Higher soil N availabilities entailed increased leaf areas and competitive ability for light, which contributed to the overall competitive ability against weeds for all of the treatments. The contribution of the weeds in the total dry matter and soil N acquisition was higher in the pea sole crop than in the other treatments, in spite of the higher leaf areas in the pea crops.
- organic farming