Crop rotation is easy and brings many benefits

A crop rotation is the planned and flexible alternation of different crops on a particular piece of land.

That means each year or season the crops are different and the order of them is designed to produce a particular result.

The order is also flexible to take account of changing circumstances.

The aim is to get benefits. A rotation may be designed to:

  • reduce weeds;
  • improve quality (such as grain protein);
  • reduce disease;
  • boost yield;
  • improve soil fertility;
  • improve soil structure; or
  • provide many other benefits.

Rotations can be simple or complex

A simple rotation can be just
Crop A
followed by
Crop B.
Crop A
followed by
Crop B.
And so it goes, on and on.

Or a rotation can run for many years and have many different crops, some of which may be in the ground for several years at a time, particularly if the crop is a perennial pasture.

A cereal and pasture rotation may have a pasture growing for 3-5 years followed by one or more cereal crops. The pasture phase will

  • provide grazing and thus an income
  • improve soil structure
  • reduce or eliminate diseases
  • build up nutrients (particularly nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) and
  • rest the soil.
This can allow a better cereal quality (particularly protein) and heavier yield (more tonnes) and thus lead to better prices and bigger profits.

In vegetable cropping the rotation can be one of the most important management tools. Once the rotation is designed and in place, many other factors just fall into line with it. For example, disease control is much easier when any similar or related crops are spaced a reasonable number of years apart.

One of my favorite rotations is 5-8 years of pasture followed by one year of potatoes. This rotation has been particularly successful for some organic farmers I know because it takes little effort and gives a good return.

It keeps the soil in good shape, ensures there is plenty of nutrient, helps to control weeds and ensures high levels of organic matter and biological activity.

It can be difficult fitting a green manure into a tight rotation. But since crop rotations bring so many benefits it is worth the effort. There are ways to squeeze a green manure into even a tight crop rotation

In summary, whatever sort of farming you do, crop rotations are easy and bring many benefits