Watching lush and large crop fields as you pass by is a quintessential view of any countryside. However, mass cultivation of a single crop species has been known to be detrimental. Planting the same crop in large groups targets pests and to combat this issue non-organic commercial farmers need to spray pesticides in the whole area. Not just this, planning a large number of the same crop depletes the soil nutrients. And this issue aggregates if the same ground is used for the same crop for the next season for which growers need to use fertilisers as the soil becomes impoverished. These issues are not subjected to large fields only; even small-scale farms face the problems associated with growing a single crop extensively on the same land. The degradation of plant health and productivity determines the drawbacks of single crop plantations on the same land for several years.
Crop rotation is the solution to combat these pitfalls. This process entails the basic idea of planting different crops in one place instead of planting the same crop in one place year after year.
This blog discusses crop rotation and its implications in Australian agriculture.
What is Crop Rotation?
As evident from the term, the concept of crop rotation involves growing individual crops in different parts of a garden every year instead of growing in one single place. This helps increase both crop health and yield. Successful crop rotation entails segregating your crops into broad classifications depending on their requirements and habits. Doing so,
- Similar types of plants grow well if planted together under similar conditions and
- It is convenient to supply adequate requirements if planted with other crops that require the same things.
Since every crop consumes nutrients from the soil, leaving residues behind, planting the same crop in the same place every year will deteriorate the soil quality and structure eventually. Practising crop rotation is the ideal alternative to deal with such issues.
Therefore, let’s re-iterate the
Benefits of Crop Rotation
- Enhanced Soil Fertility: Since different plant species consume soil nutrients, and release and absorb specific nutrients in certain ways and proportions, appropriate crop rotation helps enhance soil fertility. This can be achieved by either restoring depleting soil nutrients or by using excess nutrients to balance nutrients present in the soil. Additionally, different plants leave beneficial microorganisms as residue to boost organic soil matter. Also, animal excreta fertilises unplanted lands naturally and leftover biomass adds to soil fertility, eliminating the requirement for synthetic fertilisers.
- Better Soil Structure: Other than impacting the soil’s nutrient cycle, crop rotation recycles plant residues, formation and distribution of biopores, and beneficial microbe developments in different types of soil. This leads to less soil compaction and enhances the optimal conditions for seed germination.
- Prevents Soil Erosion: Different crops have different root systems that can either be shallow or deep or penetrate the soil at different depths which enhances soil porosity. Plants like maize, hay, and small grains have high-residue characteristics that can be rotated to minimise soil erosion as their residues avert topsoil erosion. Even perennial grasses with a long lifespan prevent soil erosion and loss of soil nutrients.
- Increases Yield and Streamlines Risk Management: Practising crop rotation on stagnant lands with fewer yields is highly beneficial. It not only increases productivity but helps plants resist abiotic stressors. Available nutrients in the soil provide nourishment to the plants enhancing crop yields. This lowers crop production risks and ensures better output.
- Enhanced Soil Nutrients and Nutrient Uptake Regulation: Soil nutrients get renewed with less fertiliser due to crop rotation. Carbon sequestration can be enhanced with the help of grasses, cereals, and oil plants in their crop rotation process.
- Preventing the Spread of Pests and Diseases: Disrupting the pests’ cycle that feeds on the same plant species can help prevent the spread of pests and diseases. Usually, farmers who have knowledge about the seasonal pattern of pests and diseases can affect and schedule the plantation during that time of the year when the infection risk is low.
- Better Weed Management: Since there are different types of weed species with different characteristics and life cycles, integrated weed management is a must. Crop rotation with an integrated system helps minimise weed biomass and decrease the use of pesticides.
- Efficient Water Use: Increasing the amount of organic soil matter enhances soil structure and water retention capacity. At the same time, crop rotation helps preserve moisture present in deep layers of the soil that helps plants during droughts. Thus, farmers can minimise irrigation water use.
How does Crop Rotation Work?
For crop rotation, you need to divide your growing space into 4 individual sections. Ensure that each spot has sufficient exposure to sunlight, drainage, and wind protection. Set aside one plot for every individual plant group for each year of the cycle.
- Roots and Onions
You need to move each plot’s crop one place down and return to the beginning. It is necessary to plant in this order as legumes consume nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil and brassicas require extra nitrogen to thrive. Planting roots in the third cycle will consume nutrients from the lower soil layers and allow the upper soil layer to recover. Finally, planting potatoes in the end, gives the soil a fine, aerated structure. You can also dig in compost or rotted manure before the next cycle begins. The basic concept is to follow one group of a crop after another with different nutritional needs and different physical growing styles.
Alternatively, you can try dividing the plants into 4 groups:
- Legumes such as peas and beans
- Leafy plants like spinach, cabbage, lettuce, etc.
- Root crops such as onion, turnip, carrot, etc.
- Fruit crops like tomato, pumpkin, cucumber, etc.
Crop rotation ensures sustainable and natural methods and is beneficial for any grower, especially the ones who want to follow a natural cycle with less chemical usage or other intensive methods. However, crop rotation requires proper planning and knowledge. Therefore, ensure that you are fully aware of the process and have conducted thorough agriculture market research before digging up your farm.
For more information on crop rotation on Australian farms and successful farmers who practice crop rotation, browse through the KG2 Australia website. We have Australia’s largest independent farmer database. Contact us today!