One of the greatest challenges facing humanity is how to grow more food while reducing the negative impacts of agriculture upon the environment. Our ability to do so requires ever-more efficient and sustainable agricultural practices. The promising news is that researchers have found out that the spatial pattern in which a farmer sows their crops is an important determinant of what they will reap.
"In the vast majority of cases, higher yields and fewer weeds are the result of sowing crops in a more uniform, grid-like pattern, where each plant is equidistant from its neighboring plants, both within and between rows," says Professor Jacob Weiner of the University of Copenhagen's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.
Professor Weiner and his colleagues from Northeast Agricultural University in China conducted a large metastudy of research in the area to discover the impact of uniform spatial patterns on crop yields and weed growth. The study, now published in the serial Advances in Agronomy, demonstrated that a uniform seeding pattern resulted in higher yields in 76% of trials, and fewer weeds in 73% of trials.
In particular, the researchers looked at three of the world's most widely-cultivated crops: wheat, maize and soybean. In many studies, yields were roughly 20% higher, while one study yielded 60% more wheat and another, up to 90% more soybeans. With regards to weed growth, several studies resulted in more than a 30% reduction in weeds when traditional, less precise sowing was replaced by the uniform sowing pattern.
"Our own research has demonstrated the positive effects of the uniform sowing of wheat when weeds are present, but the new study shows that this benefit extends to other crops, both with and without competition from weeds", says Professor Weiner.

(Source: Agriculture and Food News, ScienceDaily.

Left: Wheat sown in straight rows. Right: Wheat sown in uniform grid patterns. Photo Credit: University of Copenhagen