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Crop Rotation Planning


Crop rotation is not a new tool in the farming armory, the Romans practiced a system known as, "food, feed, and fallow"; 2,000 years ago. The basics haven't changed that much. Crop rotation promotes soil fertility, can contain the spread of plant disease, help prevent weed infestation, and lessen the impact of insect infestations; thus lessening the need for costly and environmentally unfriendly pesticides. For organic farmers, who are unable to use chemical alternatives, crop rotation is a must for healthy crops and profits.

Significance Of Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as applying to, "Growing various crops in the same field in a planned sequence. This sequence may involve growing high residue producing corns, such as corn grain or wheat in rotation with low residue producing crops such as soybeans or crops where crop residues are harvested such as silage corn. The rotation may also involve growing forage crops in rotation with various field crops."

Crop rotation systems that are applied to a farm will vary in effectiveness depending on the soil type, the farming operation, and the type of crops that are produced. The USDA says that the most effective crops to improve the soil are fibrous rooted high residue crops such as grass and small grain. You may also want to consider growing perennial forage crops to decrease soil erosion and build up organic matter in the soil.

The advantages of crop rotation cited by the USDA include:
  • Reducing disease, insect, and weed cycles.
  • The use of crop rotation can reduce economic and environmental risks.
  • Crop rotation is low cost and relates well to no-till planting, strip cropping, contour farming, crop residue management, diversions, terraces, and grassed waterways.

How To Determine A Crop Rotation Plan

Like any good business practice, crop rotation needs to be planned and adapted into your particular set of farming circumstances and may need to be changed to suit your current land conditions and market demands. For example, you might want to consider replacing a residue crop with a no-till crop of an equal or greater residue.

The planning of your crop rotation system is critical. However, help and advice is available. Contacting the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) should be high on your priority list. Formerly the Soil Conservation Service, the NRCS says that it has been helping U.S. land owners and managers conserve soil, water and other natural resources since 1935.

There are NRCS service centers in most U.S. counties and your local NRCS service center should be able to advise you and answer your questions when you are planning your crop rotation system. Also, sometimes it is essential to contact the NRCS, for example, the USDA says that you may extend your years of hay but must consult your local NRCS office before extending years of crops such as silage corn; other crops on a continuous no-till system can be replaced one for another.

Today the NRCS provides:

  • Technical assistance based on science and the client's needs.
  • Many programs, participation in which is voluntary.
  • Financial assistance for some conservation activities.

One significant NRCS program, the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program says that it provides, "Voluntary conservation technical assistance to land users, communities, units of state and local government, and other Federal agencies in planning and implementing conservation systems." Other services that the CTA program says that it provides include:

  • Managing natural resource conservation programs, which provide environmental, societal, financial, and technical benefits.
  • Providing science and technology services in the areas of animal husbandry and clean water, ecological sciences, engineering, resource economics, and social sciences.
  • Soil science and leadership for soil surveys for the National Resources Inventory (NRI).
  • Technical assistance for foreign governments and participation in international scientific and technical exchanges.

"We reach out to all segments of the agricultural community, including under-served and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, to ensure that our programs and services are accessible to everyone," says the NRCS.

Useful Crops Resource Links


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