More crop rotation considerations to discuss | TheFencePost.com

More crop rotation considerations to discuss

Mark Watson
Panhandle No-Till Educator

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing crop rotation decisions because I feel it is a very important decision. Your crop rotation and how you choose to produce those crops is a very important decision that will affect your profitability. As important as profitability, this decision will also affect the quality of your soil and how well it performs for you and the generations to come. A good crop rotation produced with no-till crop production practices can reduce weed competition, improve the quality of the soil, and greatly reduce wind and water erosion which will leave the soil in good condition for the next generation.

On our farm we have chosen a winter wheat/corn/field pea rotation. This rotation has two crops, the winter wheat and field pea, which flower and fill grain during the higher rainfall months of May and June. The corn benefits from any mid-late summer rains which occur. This rotation also has two high residue crops, winter wheat and corn, and one legume as a low residue crop. This rotation should provide enough residues to protect the soil surface and increase the organic matter content of our soil.

This rotation also provides diversity with a cool and warm season grass, along with a cool season legume. This diverse mixture of crops should provide good weed and disease control. The diverse mixture should also provide a balanced and diverse soil micro-organism population.

There are other crop rotations that will provide these same benefits. We feel this rotation is best for our operation and your rotation may have different crops and still provide the diverse crop mixture to give you the same benefits on your farm.

A common question I have received is how to include sunflowers in the crop rotation. Sunflowers are grown by many no-till producers and have proven to be a good cash crop for our area. A typical rotation of sunflowers is winter wheat/ sunflowers/ proso millet and back to winter wheat. This rotation provides many benefits with a cool season grass, a warm season legume, followed by a warm season grass.

There are a couple of drawbacks I see to this rotation. One disadvantage of this rotation is the transition back to winter wheat. The proso millet has a late maturity during the fall which limits soil moisture at winter wheat planting. The late harvest may also delay winter wheat planting. These two factors put the winter wheat crop at a disadvantage, which will reduce yields in the winter wheat crop. This yield reduction can be offset by the profitability in raising the sunflowers.

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The other disadvantage to this rotation is having two warm season crops in the rotation which rely on mid-late summer rainfall. This makes the rotation more susceptible to failure due to our sporadic rainfall in July, August, and September.

The addition of field peas to this rotation could be used following the proso millet to provide a smoother transition back to winter wheat. This would be winter wheat / sunflower / proso millet/ field pea rotation. A problem I see with this addition is only having winter wheat on 25% of your acres. Winter wheat has proven to be a consistent crop for our region and a rotation with only 25% winter wheat may not be enough. The addition of field peas also leaves this rotation with only 50% high residue crops. Dakota Lakes Research farm has shown us that 50% low residue crops in a rotation hurts the performance of the rotation, especially the winter wheat yields.

Sunflowers make transitioning back to winter wheat more difficult in a crop rotation. Controlling warm season grass weeds in a winter wheat/ sunflower/ proso millet rotation may be a concern. Sunflowers have proven to be a good cash crop for producers in our region. If the profitability of producing the sunflowers offsets the reduction in the winter wheat yields then this is a good rotation for the producers who choose to use this rotation.

Each producer knows the needs of their operation which is why each producer must choose their own rotation. Make sure to take the time to really choose a proper crop rotation for your farm which increases the profitability of your operation and also protects and improves the quality of the soil on your farm.