Crop & Pest Report


| Share

Intercropping of Alfalfa in Corn, Decision Tool

The intercropping of alfalfa into corn experiment was conducted at three environments in Prosper and Forman, ND, established in 2016, and Prosper, established in 2017.

The intercropping of alfalfa into corn experiment was conducted at three environments in Prosper and Forman, ND, established in 2016, and Prosper, established in 2017. The results across the three environments, indicate that alfalfa yield was greater for alfalfa established alone the first year compared with the other treatments. Alfalfa intercropped into corn at establishment, with or without prohexadione application, had lower yield than alfalfa seeded alone, but 2.2 to 2.5 times greater yield than the spring-seeded alfalfa following corn. In the third year of production (alfalfa established at Forman or Prosper in 2016), alfalfa yield was similar for all four treatments. An economic calculation for the results in North Dakota indicate the intercropping system has a positive outcome. In Year 1, corn yield decreased on average 30 bu/acre due to the competition alfalfa imposed. In Year 2, alfalfa yield increased by about 2.5 tons/acre compared to the spring-seeded alfalfa.  In Figure 1, you can observe the increase in alfalfa yield compared to spring-seeded alfalfa was 170 to 184% higher for alfalfa established intercropped with corn the previous year.  When compared with alfalfa established a year before, the yield of alfalfa intercropped is lower (-19 to -25%) but then you would not have had corn the first year. In the third-year, alfalfa yield is similar for all treatments, meaning no effect from the first-year intercropping system is observed.



Figure 1. Alfalfa total seasonal yield for alfalfa alone, alfalfa intercropped into corn at establishment, with and without prohexadione (PHX) application to alfalfa, averaged across three environments (Prosper 2016- 2017, Prosper 2017-2018, and Forman 2016-2017).

With these research findings and expectations of market prices, one can estimate the economic impact of intercropping.  Assuming corn and alfalfa prices of $3 per bushel and $100 per ton, revenue from corn sales are expected to be $90 per acre (30 bushels x $3) lower in year 1, but $250 per acre (2.5 ton x $100 per ton) higher in year 2 when interseeded alfalfa is harvest and sold. Across both years, intercropped alfalfa into corn is expected to increase revenue $160 per acre compared to when corn is planted in the first year and alfalfa is established in the second.

A decision tool based on the research was developed to estimate the financial outcome of intercropping alfalfa and corn for alfalfa establishment with a range of financial and production inputs.

This decision tool is intended to aid farmers considering interseeding alfalfa in corn. Producers can use available baseline assumptions or enter data specific to the farm operation. The tool estimates the economic returns to six cropping system alternatives.

The tool does not provide a pure "apples-to-apples" comparison between crop systems.  Differences in unpaid operator labor and management requirements, production risk and marketing risk are not considered. 

The tool is available at:

The development of the tool is part of the outreach effort associated with a National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded to North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station scientists (Award no. 2016-69004-24784, "CropSys - A novel management approach to increase productivity, resilience, and long-term sustainability of cropping systems in the northern Great Plains"). The project has a web site, and has additional information of research projects and outcomes.



Marisol Berti

NDSU Forage & Biomass Crop Production


Dulan Samarappuli

NDSU Research Associate


Dave Ripplinger

Bioenergy/Bioproducts Economics Extension Specialist


 Hans Kandel

Extension Agronomist Broadleaf Crops

This site is supported in part by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program [grant no. 2017-70006-27144/accession 1013592] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the website author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA logo

Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.