How to Get Started in Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is a farming practice which utilises the different requirements and benefits of different plants so that soil fertility is improved, erosion is controlled, and pest and diseases are decreased. This practice requires planning and some knowledge of the type of crop you will grow for an extended period of time to get the full benefit from it.


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    Understand what crop rotation is. This farming method uses the practice of planting different plant varieties in a location in subsequent growing seasons to do obtain the following benefits:
    • Increased yields. Because one plant will require different nutrients and support different destructive organisms, by planting a different crop in subsequent seasons, the nutrients taken from the soil can be replaced and the destructive organisms can be reduced. An example is planting corn and beans in rotation. Corn requires a lot of nitrogen to offer a good yield, and has specific pests and diseases, like corn earworms, corn blight, among others. By planting beans in rotation, the legume (beans), fix additional nitrogen in the soil, and during the bean growing season, corn pests and diseases have no plants to reproduce or replenish themselves in, so they die off or decrease.
    • Soil erosion prevention. Row crops (plants placed in rows spaced apart, with bare soil "middles" or areas between the rows, allow more erosion than crops usually planted by "broadcast" methods, or in a close-spaced "drill". By rotating a broadcast or close spaced seed crop like grains, the erosion problem does not occur continuously, and the straw and waste from the grain crop acts to stabilize the soil when the land is tilled between crops.
    • Reduction of pesticide usage. By reducing pest populations in a specific plot of ground or field by eliminating plants they depend on for continuing their life cycle, you can reduce the overall population of these pests that occur during the season you grow these plants. Having a reduced population will then reduce your dependency on pesticides to control them.
    • Reduction in labor. If you grow a very large crop of a labor intensive plant, you will be required to invest sufficient labor to manage the production and harvest of the crop yield. As example, 10 acres of cotton might require 4,000 man hours to till, plant, and harvest, but by splitting the crop, and planting 5 acres of cotton and 5 acres of a less labor intensive crop like hay, grain, or vegetable row crops, you spread out the most intensive labor period, and reduce the overall labor requirements for an individual growing season.
    • Increase profits. By limiting the total aggregate acreage of any one crop, the local demand may increase, which in turn raises the price of the plant product.
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    Select your crop varieties. This article cannot cover all the possibilities, so you will have to research your local crop choices. Generally, the following guidelines should be considered.
    • Rotate grains with solid seed and row crops. An example would be Wheat, season 1, Legumes, season 2, Oil seed crops (corn, sunflowers, flax) season 3, wheat season 4, Legumes, season 5, etc). You should see the pattern here. With the legumes planted only on each 3rd planting season, the pests that favor this type plant will have two growing seasons where it is not present to encourage these pests to multiply.
    • Rotate different grains. Planting barley one season, and wheat the next will inhibit the continuing increase in plant specific pathogenic organisms. Root rot fungi that attack wheat are often specific to this one grain, and so, the barley season will interrupt the life cycle of this organism.
    • Seed crop, fallow rotation. This method is best if there is sufficient land to allow laying a portion fallow (barren) for a season. It will allow you to control "noxious plants" (weeds), while allowing non-invasive or non-damaging plants to grow which in turn are tilled into the soil to build up the organic matter therein, increasing the soil's fertility.
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    Make a long range rotation plan. You will need to determine the goals you hope to achieve by implementing crop rotation, then plan specific crops which will help you to realize them. Next, you will need to create a planting schedule, so that you will be prepared to act on your plan. If you save your seed from crop year to crop year, you will have to protect seed from one crop year to the next year you plant that crop, or have an outside source of fresh, viable seed available. Some seeds can be stored for many years with little reduction in germination, but special care must be taken to protect any seed for future use.
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    Implement your rotation plan. Begin planting your crop in the rotation order you have chosen.
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    Take notes of benefits you experience, or problems that occur using your rotation plan. If you find that yield is reduced by planting a specific crop "behind" (in a subsequent planting season) another, you may have to modify the order of your crop selection to minimize the loss of productivity. This might mean adding another neutral impact plant between the two previous crops, that off sets the condition which causes the decrease in the crop previously noted.
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    Work with neighboring growers to increase the benefits of your rotation. If you rotate your crop to decrease specific pests such as corn earworms, you will see little benefit if adjoining fields grow corn during your "no-corn" season, since the moth which is the adult stage of the corn earworm can migrate to your crop the following year.
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    Use crop adjustment as you realise the benefits of your rotation plan. If your rotation strategy increases the yield of a particular crop, you may then choose to store (if possible) the surplus, so that you can reduce the overall acreage dedicated to this one plant crop, allowing you to increase the number of different crops you select. You may find for specific applications such as growing for personal use that you can decrease the total crop acreage to the point where you may place unneeded crop land into pasture and begin a modest animal production operation, or allow environmentally delicate areas to return to their natural state.
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    Understand that crop rotation alone can contribute to increased production and pest and weed reduction, but other factors may contribute to your success (or failure), particularly weather. Dry years typically decrease production, and warm winters in non-tropical areas can allow more pests to "overwinter", allowing larger populations to occur in spite of your control efforts.


  • Keep records so that gains (or losses) in production can be observed. This will allow you to see where you are benefiting from your rotation practice. These records should indicate crop type, yield, and weather, along with the cost of soil amendments (fertiliser, pH balancing chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides), since a minor decrease production may be offset by a substantial decrease in your total production cost.
  • Look at other farming operations to see where they have success with crop rotation.
  • Be consistent if you expect consistent results. If you have a "bumper" (unusually high yield) of a specific crop one season, you may be tempted to cheat and replant that crop the following season.
  • Keep informed of new seeds which become available in your region. Research is continuing to develop disease, insect resistant, and drought tolerant crop seeds.


  • Because you may store seeds for a longer period between planting a specific crop, caution should be taken to protect your seed from insects and other organisms which may destroy them.

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Categories: Farming