A 3-year field study (1986–88) was conducted in central Alberta to discover how diverse soil-plant systems function under cryoboreal subhumid conditions. Barley, fescue, faba (field) bean and a barley/field pea intercrop were grown continuously on different soils at Ellerslie and Breton using two distinct tillage methods. The agronomic performance, weed-crop interactions and below-ground productivity of these cropping systems were examined. The main findings were as follows: different soil properties did not affect yields of barley, barley/field pea and fescue fertilized with N and P; silage yield of faba bean at Breton was greater than at Ellerslie; barley/field pea and faba bean could be grown without tillage at Ellerslie; barley/field pea plots had the lowest weed counts; fescue root biomass was greatest at all depths followed by faba bean and barley; and soil properties appeared not to induce differences in root production of a cereal, an annual forage legume and a perennial grass. Increasing the use of annual legumes into rotations, either as sole crops or as intercrops with cereals, may be a viable alternative to continuous cereal cropping because annual legumes contribute N through biological N fixation, reduce weed competition and increase the input of root mass in soil.