Intercropping chickpea with flax: An alternative sustainable way to manage Ascochyta blight of Chickpea

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $347,557.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Host Institution Award ID: N/A MSU Internal
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Chengci Chen
Montana State University
Dr. Frankie crutcher
Montana State University-EARC
Dr. William Franck
Montana State University-EARC
Dr. Qasim Khan
Montana State University-SARC
Dr. Kevin McPhee
Montana State University-EARC
Dr. Kent McVay
Montana State University-SARC


  • Agronomic: flax, other, peas (field, cowpeas)


  • Crop Production: intercropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management

    Proposal abstract:

    Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is the third most produced pulse crop after lentil and dry edible beans in the world. Montana leads the nation in pulse crop (pea, lentil, and chickpea) production. About 70% of nation’s total pulse is produced in Montana. Ascochyta blight, caused by the fungal pathogen Ascochyta rabiei, is the most damaging chickpea disease worldwide which can lead to severe economic losses due to reduced yield and quality. Fungicides are important for controlling Ascochyta blight; however integration of different strategies is essential for effectively managing this disease and delaying the development of resistance to fungicides. Furthermore, in some production systems, such as organic production, chemical fungicides are not allowed.

    Intercropping of multiple species offers many benefits, among those is disease management. Montana ranks 4th in the nation for flax (Linum usiatissimum) production. Human consumption of flax seed is increasing rapidly for its high dietary fiber, omega 3 oils, and anti-carcinogenic lignin. We propose to intercrop flax with chickpea as an innovative solution to suppress Ascochyta blight disease in chickpea. We have hypothesized that chickpea intercropped with flax will prevent the spread of Ascochyta blight without affecting chickpea yield and quality.

    This proposed research includes field studies at two MSU’s research farms and two farmer’s fields. We will test the health of chickpea seeds, evaluate the compatibility of chickpea cultivars with flax for intercropping, study seeding rate and row configurations, and investigate Ascochyta rabiei spores movement and disease development under sole and intercrops using the innovative spore traps and PCR technology. Finally, chickpea yield and economic analysis will be performed.  Expected outcomes include: 1) selection of chickpea cultivars that are compatible or competitive with flax; 2) demonstration of sustainable ways to manage Ascochyta blight in chickpeas, 3) reveal of the mechanism of Ascochyta blight suppression by intercropping, 4) reduction of chemical fungicide use by educating farmers to adopt intercropping techniques, 5) economic analysis of intercropping systems.

    A multidisciplinary team consisting of agronomist, plant pathologist, Extension specialist, and farmers are involved in this project. One statewide Extension specialist is involved in this project to organize field days and workshops at MSU-EARC, SARC and on producer farms. Information will be delivered to producers and scientific committee through field tours, workshops, conference presentations, and publications.

    This project will achieve WSARE’s goals to promote the good stewardship by reducing the amount of pesticide (fungicide) application, reducing the risk of crop failure, and increasing land use efficiency. The project will also enhance the quality of life of farmers through diversifying crop productions and increasing farm profitability by adopting intercropping. The health and safety of the farmers and consumers are also protected through the production of high quality and nutritional chickpea and flax. Intercropping for disease management will also prevent environmental contamination from pesticides and reduce the risk of developing fungicide resistant pathogens. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The main goal of this project is to study, educate, and support Montana pulse growers to develop sustainable methods for managing Ascochyta blight disease in chickpea and improve land use efficiency through intercropping.

    The specific objectives are:

    1. To select and test chickpea varieties and breeding lines for their compatibility or competitiveness with flax
    2. To study the effect of intercropping on disease severity and dispersal of Ascochyta rabiei
    3. To assess the economic benefits of intercropping compared to mono-culture of chickpea and flax.
    4. Educate growers through field days and workshops.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.