What is extended crop rotation and could it help your farm?

What is extended crop rotation and could it help your farm?

Crop rotation is one of the oldest land conservation practices used by farmers. In recent years, though, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has taken an interest in promoting crop rotation thanks to its success in promoting soil health and conservation.

Soil conservation is one of many widely known benefits of crop rotation. But what if you could provide even more of those benefits to your farmland?

With extended crop rotation, you can.

First, here is an overview of crop rotation, how it proves beneficial to farmers and why it's so widely practiced.

Crop rotation basics

Crop rotation, in short, is systematically growing different crops on the same sections of land every year. It's a process that requires planning and has to take place in a recurring sequence to benefit the land.

As summarized by Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), this process often includes alternating row crop production with a high residue producing crop, like corn, and a low residue producing crop, like soybeans.

Farmers could also include a rotation to a small grain or grass legume meadow. The sequence could feature crops that are planted for cover or nutrient enhancements, too.

Why crop rotation is a smart conservation practice

Crop rotation keeps nutrients in the soil, reduces soil erosion and prevents plant diseases and pests.

Crop rotation helps maintain soil nutrients

As stated in a post on crop rotation by MaximumYield, certain nutrients found in the soil can be depleted if one crop is grown in a field year after year. When those nutrients are depleted, the results are poor plant health and lower crop yield.

Depending on how crops are rotated, though, those nutrients can be replenished.

Rotations that include alfalfa or other legumes can actually reduce the need to use fertilizer because these plants replace some of the nitrogen that's used by corn and other grain crops, according to the NRCS.

Crop rotation keeps plants healthier and pests away

In addition to keeping soil nutrient rich, crop rotation helps prevent plant diseases and pests. This is because crops that may be more likely to succumb to certain diseases and pests are swapped with crops that aren't susceptible to those same diseases and pests.

Farmers may even find they don't have to spend as much money on pesticides because of this crop rotation benefit. Money saved is always a positive for farming practice.

Water quality can be improved with certain crops

The NRCS states that grass and legumes in a crop rotation sequence can also protect water quality. That's because these crops prevent excess nutrients and chemicals from running off field into water supplies.

What is extended crop rotation?

MaximumYield notes that there isn't a limit to how many crops can be included in a rotation. The options depend on each farmers' specific needs, but the rotation can include animal feed crops, such as hay, clover and oats. Farmers can also use fields as animal pastures or go unplanted.

More farmers are beginning to look into adding more crops to their rotation sequences. This is called extended crop rotation.

Typically, according to Clean Water Iowa, an extended rotation includes the primary row crop of corn and then at least two years of a different crop. That different crop often is a forage legume, such as alfalfa.

When it comes to Iowa farmland, though, Clean Water Iowa notes that an extended crop rotation could look more like this: a rotation of corn, soybean, and two or three years of alfalfa or legume-grass mixtures that will be used for hay.

Benefits of extended crop rotations

Extended crop rotation expands on the benefits of crop rotation.

The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance promotes extended crop rotation as a way to even better promote soil health, insect problems and disease pressure. Extended crop rotation also helps improve water quality because the soil is covered with actively growing plants for more months out of the year.

Extended crop rotation benefits are backed by research

Clean Water Iowa explains that by extending crop rotation, the use and loss of nitrate-N and P is reduced. That's because by growing nitrogen fixing legumes for three consecutive years, less nitrogen - if any - will have to be applied during the next year that corn is planted.

By using extended crop rotation, Clean Water Iowa cites research showing an average of 42 percent reduction in nitrate-N concentration in tile drainage water and corn yields about 10 percent higher.

Less P loss associated with alfalfa or legume-grass mixture helps reduce soil erosion thanks to better soil cover and higher P removal with hay, as opposed to corn grain or soybean seed.

More Iowa farmers are extending their crop rotations

Many Iowa farmers are exploring extended crop rotations.

WallacesFarmer last year observed that more farmers are adding oats, rye and other small grains into their farm's crop rotation. This helps regenerate Iowa's soil, clean up the state's water supply and offers farm diversification benefits.

Specifically, Iowa farmers are taking up an interest in oats. Iowa was the top oat-producing state in the county until the 1950s.

In fact, the WallacesFarmer article points out that Palo Alto County, right here in northwest Iowa, was the leading oat-producing county in Iowa. The county produced 154,000 bushels of oats.

WallacesFarmer cites experts who say this return to oat production - and other small grains and forage crops - can help address Iowa's water quality, soil erosion, decreased biodiversity and other environmental issues.

Midwest Land Management assists with all farm planning aspects

From crop rotation, to tenant selection, input purchasing, farm repairs, improvements, in-depth grain marketing and more, Midwest Land Management can represent you and help guide you through it all.

Contact us today if you're looking for a personal and professional array of one-on-one land management services.

Midwest Land Management and Real Estate Inc. specializes in professional farm management in 18 northwest Iowa counties and beyond. We are fully licensed in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, making our services available in any of those states.

When you partner with Midwest Land Management, we'll work to meet your specific goals and objectives for each farm.

We look forward to working with you.