The Roundup -

Benefits of Diverse Crop Rotations to be Discussed at WREC Dryland Field Day July 14


Diverse crop rotations are not a new concept, but their benefits are being rediscovered. Dr. Audrey Kalil, Plant Pathologist at the Williston Research Extension Center and Dr. Don Tanaka, retired USDA-Agricultural Research Service Soil Scientist will be speaking on various benefits of diverse crop rotations at the NDSU- Williston Research Extension Center’s Dry Land Field Day on Thursday, July 14th. Kalil’s presentation will focus on research investigating diverse crop rotation’s ability to manage disease; Tanaka’s talk will discuss the soil quality benefits that can be achieved with diverse cash crops, cover crops, and no-till practices.

“Cash crop sequence can be carefully planned so that different plant families contribute their own unique benefits to the system. For example, crops can be selected to increase soil nutrients, break-up disease cycles, and suppress weeds,” said NDSU Area Extension Specialist Clair Keene. “Having five different cash crops in your rotation is a good start.”

In addition to cash crops, cover crops can also be planted. For instance, a farmer that grows durum wheat, peas, corn, and safflower could plant a full-season cover crop that would add needed nutrients to the soil in place of one of the cash crops or in rotation with them.

A farmer who raises durum and spring wheat (two grass crops) could plant a short-season cover crop from a different plant family, like peas, in late summer after wheat harvest to help prevent grass-specific diseases from carrying over into the following year’s wheat crop.

Cover crops like oats or oats mixed with a legume such as red clover can help suppress weeds ahead of a cash crop like safflower or canola. Safflower and canola often don’t form a complete canopy and therefore are not very weed suppressive. Suppressing weeds the year before planting less competitive crops is an excellent way to improve weed control in those cash crops.

Over time, thoughtfully planned diverse crop rotations can reduce not only weeds, diseases, and insect pests, but also save farmers money by reducing the need for herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides—all of which are inputs that must be purchased.

As late as the 1940s diverse crop rotation was more widely practiced than it is today. Before 1950, most farm equipment was animal draft-powered, and farmers had to grow crops such as alfalfa, oats, and other forages to feed to their animals. As gas-powered equipment became more affordable, the need for horses, mules, and oxen on the farm dwindled, and along with it, the need to grow forages. This shift freed up farmers to grow only cash crops. Along with the switch from animal to diesel power, new fertilizers and pesticides became widely available and supplanted diverse crop rotations, enabling farmers to grow just one or two cash crops year after year.

“The concerns of farmers and consumers are changing, and I believe this is driving the high level of interest right now in diverse crop rotation,” added Keene.

Kalil and Tanaka will both be speaking during the Dryland Field Day Tour happening at the Williston Research Extension Center, 14120 Hwy 2 (4.5 miles west of Williston). The tour begins 9:15am Central Time following coffee and rolls starting at 8:30 and a brief welcome at 9:00.


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