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Farming Methods - Crop Rotation

I love this time of year, especially when we have been fortunate to have the amount of rain that we have received so far this spring (my husband has more mixed feelings about the rain – it has made making hay very difficult, but the pastures and crop ground is looking pretty good).  I love all of the green – the green pastures providing plenty of feed for livestock (translation – no more winter feeding!!), the trees with their full canopies, the flowers in full bloom, and the life I see all around – especially in the newly planted crop fields.  Do you live near or drive by some of those fields on a regular basis?  Have you noticed the little green shoots starting to come up?  Do they look different than last years?  Wondering why?
 
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Soybean plants emerging through corn stalks left from last year's crop.
 
For many of those fields, it may very well be because the farmer utilizes crop rotation.  Crop rotation is, simply put, the successive cultivation of different crops in a specified order on the same fields (Britannica Online Encyclopedia).  So what does that look like in real life?  In this area, the most popular crop rotation is corn and soybeans in a 1:1 ratio.  That field you see every day?  If it was planted in corn last year, and the farmer utilizes crop rotation, there is a good chance that the crop that will be growing there this year will be soybeans, followed next year by corn.  There are other combinations that could be used as well – some people will rotated corn with alfalfa (usually on a 2 or three year system, which means two years of corn, three years of alfalfa, or they may also add a grass to the mix – so corn, soybeans and a grass to make hay).  Regardless of the types of crops that are planted, the key to a true crop rotation is that it s done deliberately and with planning to take advantage of the benefits of the different crops.  In other words, if that field you drive by has been planted in corn for as long as you remember, but has soybeans this year, it may not be a true crop rotation system – the farmer may just be planting soybeans because he thinks they will be more profitable this year.
 
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Planting a field
 
A true, well planned crop rotation system can offer many different benefits to farmers – weed, insect and disease control; decrease soil impaction, increase yields, decrease in fertilizer and pesticide applications.  Rotating corn with soybeans or alfalfa, both of which are “nitrogen fixing”, meaning they add nitrogen to the soil, can decrease the need for nitrogen fertilizer for corn.  In addition, during the years when these crops are planted, they will help to use up any excess phosphorus and potassium that may be in the soil from the fertilizer applied to the corn the year before.  Switching between different crops also helps to decrease pests – insects, diseases and weeds – since many of these may be a problem in one crop, but not another.  By rotating, it breaks the cycle of infestation, and decreases the need to apply pesticide.
 
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Healthy ear of field corn
 
Crop rotation is one of many tools that farmers can use to help increase productivity while improving soil quality.  Used correctly, it has tremendous benefits to the farmer, the soil and the environment!
 
Monday, June 12, 2017
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