Case study 20: Switzerland: Intercropping for species other than peas and faba beans in association with cereal

Cluster 4: Diversification through intercropping, with a special focus on grain legumes

The production of grain legumes regained importance due to the increasing demand of organic protein after years of low yielding in Switzerland.
The current case study addresses soya production, as only 300 ha of organic soya for human consumption as tofu are produced in the country. The new focus is to develop new systems to produce organic soya on a bigger scale as feed for chicken and pigs aiming at reducing the import of organic soya from China.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
The cultivation of grain legumes, like peas, was completely broken down some years ago, due to lodging, which resulted in a higher risk of late weed infestation. The previous low yields had reduced the organic pea-producing area to only 50 hectares in the whole of Switzerland. On the other hand, the demand for organic protein increased, due to a higher demand for organic eggs and pork. The production of homegrown grain legumes regained importance.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
The case study began in 2008, with the homegrown protein production providing only 3% of the total demand. Most of the proteins come from imported organic soya from China, and smaller quantities of peas and field beans from all over Europe. By 2014, the production area had increased to 500 hectares, which supplies about 6-7% of the demand. At the moment, about 20 collection points exist all over Switzerland.
Former trials have shown that it is possible to grow peas, using an intercropping system. The challenge was to find the optimum relation between two crops that have the same maturity time for the harvest. Diversifying to an intercropping system, with one or two different crops, and a cereal as a holder, was the key solution to lodging.
Until now, all the actors along the whole value chain have been involved in the case study: Bio Suisse (Association of organic farmers of Switzerland), FiBL (research and advice on organic agriculture), feed producers (Lehmann and Rytz) and a few farmers. FiBL and the farmer group optimised the intercropping systems in the fields. The millers improved the separation technique and the cleaning process. The scientific work was done by the advisors with on-farm research.

Solution investigated
In the past, we tested different intercropping systems like peas with barley or faba beans with oat. The relation between grain legume and cereal was always 80% of the normal seed rate of grain legumes with only 40% of the normal seed rate of cereal. For both intercropping systems, we tested different varieties to have the same maturity point and, finally, the same harvest point. That is a real challenge because there are so many possibilities to combine.
The new focus is on growing soya or lupine in intercropping systems and on the comparison to the traditional pure seeded crops. Besides intercropping, we will also try a direct seeding or under-sowing with service plants. New intercropping systems for grain legumes should be developed and trials undertaken of different varieties and species combinations and the suitability of sowing, harvesting and sorting machinery for organic production.

Expected outcome
Establish organic soya production for food and feed in Switzerland
Find new methods to stabilize the yield of organic soya.
Find new ways to reduce the danger of a complete weed infestation at the end of the growing period.
Develop new, low-input systems to produce soya without any chemical input.
Exchange knowledge with other project partners.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals?
Lower environmental impact of low-input diversified cropping systems like the organic production. The methods applied in organic can be transmitted on conventional.
New market opportunities to increase the farmers´ revenues.
Improved delivery of ecosystem services including biodiversity.


  • Hansueli Dierauer, FiBL, case study leader
  • Sylvain Quiédeville, FibL, case study monitor