Experts say there are few cons to diversifing crops
Rotational crop systems (the successive planting of different crops in the same field) can provide a great deal of benefits to both the land and the farmer.
But, is there a downside to implementing this type of system?
“There are not many cons to a rotational crop system,” according to University of Missouri Extension Field Agronomist Jill Scheidt. “The main one I can think of is the need for different equipment in some instances, but you can usually work around that if needed.”
Corn and soybeans require different equipment, but crops like milo, wheat and soybeans can share the same gear.
Pest and disease control is always a concern with crops.
“The biggest benefit of a rotational cropping system is you break the life cycle of a lot of pests that overwinter in crop residue,” Scheidt said. “Many insects and diseases need certain host crops to survive.
The majority of crop diseases do not affect both grass and broadleaf crops, so rotating breaks the lifecycle of those diseases.”
Planting a broadleaf crop one year and a grass crop the next also allows producers the opportunity for better weed control.
Scheidt gave an example with waterhemp and palmer amaranth (difficult to control pigweeds).
“In some areas, these broadleaf weeds have resistance to glyphosate. Growing a grass crop, like corn, allows producers to spray a broadleaf weed killer that isn’t possible to spray in soybeans,” she said.
Nutrient depletion of the soil can be managed with rotational crop systems.
“When you rotate crops, the same nutrient isn’t continually depleted from the soil,” Scheidt explained. Crop rotation does change the need for fertilizer but does not remove it completely. Inputs will still need to be added to produce desired yields and replenish what is removed by the crop, Scheidt said.
Rotational crop systems can also help other aspects of soil health.
According to the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma, rotation helps reduce compaction by loosening sub-surface soil. Rotation can improve soil structure, aeration and drainage, particularly with deep-rooted taproot crops.
Rotation involving crops with higher crop residue can reduce surface crusting and water runoff, thereby improving soil moisture content for the succeeding crop.
Legume cover crops will have the same benefits of weed, insect and disease control, as well as improve fertility of soil by nitrogen fixation. Cover crops will also act as a barrier to reduce wind and water erosion.
The Noble Institute also noted improved yields when crops are rotated.
Yields are higher when a crop different than the preceding crop is grown. Research has shown even with the same fertility levels, significant positive yield differences can be achieved through rotation.
The benefits of crop rotation tend to outweigh the potential cost of acquiring different equipment.
Speaking with the local Extension agents can help producers determine the best successional planting strategy for their land.