Farmers and agronomists have long been developing and following practices that are focused on increasing efficiency, improving crop yields and minimise costs. While many farmers still consider monoculture – the practice of planting a single type of crop at the same filed year after year – to be an easy and cost-effective method of meeting constantly growing global food demand, this method of farming has long been known to cause problems – with soil degradation and risk of pest infestation being the biggest of them.
Large groups of the same crop species in a particular area make an easy target for pests, which increases the need to spray large amounts of pesticides and chemicals. Moreover, planting the same crop across the same area over the years strips the soil of nutrients, leaving it weak and less fertile to support healthy plant growth. This is where crop rotation enters.
Practiced as a system of organic farming today, crop rotation is not new in agriculture. It has been successfully used by farmers since BC centuries. In the ancient years, however, farmers were not aware of the science behind planting different crops in the same field year by year, nor did they know its impact on the soil, environment and other benefits. Crop rotation was only practiced because of the seasonal calendar of crop plantation, which was followed traditionally to guide planting patterns.
To better understand why crop rotation is so popular amongst modern farmers, let’s take a close look at the process, its basic principles and benefits.
What is Crop Rotation?
Crop rotation is a farming practice that involves growing different types of crops in the same area in a sequence of seasons. Different types of crops or plants require different nutrients from the soil to grow successfully. Planting the same plant species repeatedly in the same area keeps depleting the land of the necessary soil nutrients, affecting plant growth and crop yields over the years. A well-planned crop rotation system helps improve soil mineral and organic content, maintain crop health, combat soil deficiencies and ensure long-term sustainability. Furthermore, crop rotation also sometimes entails not planting any crops at all in order to allow the bare land to rejuvenate until the next season. For the time the land is left bare for rejuvenation, many farmers incorporate livestock farming in the crop rotation process.
In addition to improving crop and soil health, crop rotation help you deter pests and insects that attack specific plant species. Changing crops planted in one particular area routinely and strategically, breaks the pest’s or crop disease’s lifecycle, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical spraying and crop losses.
Principles of Crop Rotation
Crop rotation simply focuses on rotating crops in a particular area so that no bed has the same crop in successive seasons. The main objective is to maintain soil pH and nutrient so that each crop species in every season can get the most out of the soil. There is no single crop rotation plan that applies to all farmers. The period of rotation may vary from a planting season to a few years or even longer periods. Crops can be rotated in a particular field depending upon a farmer’s individual requirements, the type of soil, climate and environmental conditions, the markets for various crops and budget.
For example, some farmers may rotate two different crops, say corn and soybeans, in a single field for alternative years. Others might follow a more a diverse plan where they rotate five or six crops in a field for several years. Listed below are some basic principles of crop rotation that would help you choose the right crop to plant on the right soil at the right time:
- Crops with deep roots, such as carrot, should be followed by shallow rooted crops like wheat, rice and corn. This allows for efficient and uniform use of nutrients from the soil.
- Leguminous crops like pulses and alfalfa should be planted after non-leguminous or cereal crops, such as oats and rice. Legumes boost atmospheric nitrogen and organic content in the soil.
- More exhaustive crops like sunflower should be followed by restorative crops like pulses and legumes.
- Avoid growing crops of the same family in succession as they serve as alternate hosts for pests and diseases.
- Long duration crops should be succeeded by short duration crops.
- Crops susceptible to soil borne pathogens and parasitic weeds should be grown after tolerant crops.
- Crops that involve heavy irrigation and intensive labour should be grown after crops requiring less water and labour.
Advantages of Crop Rotation
Rotating crops helps farmers manage soil and fertility while handling a number of challenges that affect greatly affect crop health and yields. Listed below are some ways a well-designed crop rotation plan can benefit farmers:
- Improves crop yields
- Increases nitrogen content in soil
- Improves soil structure
- Increase water available for plants
- Reduce soil erosion, crusting and sedimentation
- Replenish plant nutrients in the soil
- Limits of pests infestations and crop diseases
- Ensures better distribution of labour during each crop season
- Reduces use of fertilisers, pesticides and chemicals
- Reduces financial risks with planting of multiple crops
- Slow but steady income which is beneficial for small farmers
- Reduces costs and increases profitability
The principle of crop rotation is simple enough – no same crop should be grown in a given field year after year. While there are several benefits of incorporating a crop rotation system, the process works differently from region to region. To achieve success with the process, it is important to efficiently crop families/groups and the order of rotation using Australian farm data analytics from a reliable agriculture service provider. Another thing to note is – while crop rotation process itself is simple, it can be hard to keep track of different types of crops grown in the field during different seasons. And that’s why you must invest in a specialised farm management software application that helps you keep track of your crop rotation data. As part of KG2 farming solutions, we assist farmers and agribusinesses with agriculture software development and database management so you can streamline your farm operations and enhance profitability with data-backed advice.