Switch It Up: 4 ways crop rotation helps our farm be sustainable


txhamiltonkyla

Kyla Hamilton and her husband, a fifth-generation farmer, grow corn, cotton, oats, sorghum, vegetables and wheat, and raise beef cattle on their farm in western Texas.

 

If you ever find yourself in a rut, it always seems helpful to switch up your routine. Take a different route to work. Listen to a new genre of music while out for a run. Get adventurous by experimenting with an exotic recipe. These simple changes can be rejuvenating and improve your productivity and efficiency.

While there’s no such thing as a simple change on our farm, the same philosophy can be applied. That’s why, after doing plenty of research and planning, we decided to implement a crop rotation program.

 

Breaking the Cycle

Planting the same crop season after season after season gets monotonous. The constant conditions deplete our soil of nutrients and allow weeds and insects to adapt and thrive. This makes them much more difficult to manage.

By keeping Mother Nature guessing with our crop-rotation system of wheat, cotton and milo – and then letting the land go untouched for a season – we are better equipped to handle all the curve balls she may throw at us. It also helps us become sustainable along the way.

 

Ways We’re Sustainable with Crop Rotation

Here are five ways practicing crop rotation helps us become more sustainable for our land, business and future generations.

  1. Introduces new nutrients and reduces emissions
    Different crops require different nutrients to thrive. If we were to continually plant one crop in the same field, it would keep pulling the same essential nutrients out of the soil. That would force us to spread fertilizer to add them back in. But because different crops also return different nutrients back into the soil, we can count on crop rotation to lighten the fertilizer load.For example, we can reduce amounts of added nitrogen to support cotton growth because the peanuts in the ground before put some back in for us.

    To spread fertilizer, it takes equipment that produces fuel emissions, and the fertilizer itself expels greenhouse gas. Therefore, by reducing fertilizer use, we lower both fuel and greenhouse gas emissions.

  2. Prevents erosion
    Rotating our crops adds diversity and brings a balance to our soil profile. Balanced soil is stable soil, and stable soil helps reduce soil erosion.In our area, the soil is very sandy. Harsh storms with strong winds can blow nutrient-rich top soil around or wash it away from our fields. Increasing soil stability helps us keep it where it belongs.
  3. Helps retain moisture
    Incorporating crop rotation on our farm has allowed us to practice no-till farming. That means we don’t run a tractor through our fields to stir up the top soil before planting. This leaves remnants from the previous crop on top of the soil.The leftover stalks and stems act as a kind of mulch covering our field. That mulch shields the soil from much of the heat and sunlight we experience in western Texas. This stop valuable moisture from evaporating. Keeping that moisture in the ground helps us manage our water use and sustain our crops without irrigation.
  4. Provides pest control
    Like fleas on a dog, pests that invade our fields need a host to survive. If we keep “feeding” cotton to a disease or insect that thrives on cotton, that pest will flourish and build up its presence in the soil.Taking away that pest’s access to the crop it needs to survive by rotating in different plants disrupts that cycle and controls the pest populations plaguing our fields. As an added bonus, this allows us to reduce the amount of pesticide we spray.

Change didn’t happen overnight when we incorporated crop rotation on our farm. It takes us four years to complete a full rotation of crops on one field.

However, knowing all the sustainability benefits that come from using this management practice has made our commitment to crop rotation worth the effort. We look forward to becoming even more efficient in the years to come.


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