Crop Rotation: [Concept, Examples, Advantages and History]

Planting the same crop in the same spot for many years in a row gradually depletes the soil of certain nutrients and increases the risk of pests and potential weeds that stunt your garden plants’ growth.

With crop rotation, certain nutrients are replenished depending on the crops that are planted.

For example, a simple rotation between a plant that uses a lot of nitrogen (eg corn) and a plant that deposits nitrogen (eg soybeans) can help maintain a healthy balance of nutrients in the soil.

What is crop rotation?

Crop rotation is a technique used in agriculture to alternate in the same place the different types of cultivated plants -different families with different nutritional needs-, with the aim of preventing the development of diseases that affect these crops and avoiding the soil runs out of nutrients.

Through this system, diseases and pests are controlled to improve crops, preventing them from perpetuating themselves in a given time and in the same place.

Thus, if different species are planted on the same land simultaneously, the needs of each one in terms of irrigation, fertilizer and maintenance must be taken into account.

It is a way to ensure the sustainability of the land by promoting crops that are alternated year after year, maintaining soil fertility.

Did you know…?Crop rotation is different from monoculture, because in this, over the years, the proliferation of pests and the wear of the land tend to worsen, which results in a decrease in nutrients since the plants always occupy the same area. of roots.

To enhance the soil and reduce its wear, it is necessary to develop a strict planning and know the properties of each of the plants. That way you will get the required benefits.

Some of the things planners need to consider are: the length of the process, which averages four years; that the soil must rest for a time before being used again in the new production; and that there must be a division into groups of plants, dividing the orchard for a correct distribution and good production.

Why is it important to rotate crops?

Crops have experienced considerable increases and this increase is reflected in the rate of nutrient extraction, which has created a greater dependence on fertilizers; This results in damage to the soil and neighboring ecosystems, if not to groundwater.

Therefore, there was a need to find a sustainable way to solve the problem through an action that would prevent the affectation of the soil and other components of the environment, and nothing better for that than crop rotation.

sustainable production

To achieve a sustainable production system, the model to imitate are natural systems, which tend to maximize the capture of resources and the production of biomass while reducing the loss of nutrients to a minimum, while keeping the soil covered and protect from erosion.

Therefore, a good rotation program must be productive, prevent soil erosion, minimize nutrient loss, resist pests and diseases, and ensure that each crop benefits from the next.

The most important thing about this process is that the wear and tear on the land is minimized, because when the rotation is carried out in an expeditious and efficient manner, the appearance of weeds is reduced because the soil is continuously occupied throughout the year.

With crop rotation, in addition, the development of a healthier soil is promoted by producing an increase in the humus reserve, when different plants are alternated, which stimulates the action of microorganisms that are beneficial to the land.

What are the advantages of rotating crops?

We could say that one of the main advantages is that with crop rotation biodiversity and soil properties are maintained.

The maintenance of biodiversity results in the preservation of ecosystems both in plant species as well as in animals and insects, which guarantees the yield of nutrients from the substrate and that favors the use of the soil.

Other advantages of crop rotation are the following:

environmental protection

  1. Less use of fertilizers, which represents time saved and money saved in production and the decrease in the possibility of contaminating groundwater.
  2. Better plant nutrition, as there are fewer nutrient deficiencies.
  3. Greater resistance naturally to pests and diseases, which leads to less use of pesticides and herbicides.
  4. Changing the crop tends to defeat the pest, since it will not have the same environment and it is most likely that it will not return in the next phase.
  5. Diversification of production, one of the things that growers are looking for the most.
  6. It produces the reduction of water and wind erosion.
  7. Improvement of organic matter content in the soil.
  8. Reduction of weeds, pests and insects in crops.
  9. Improvement of crops in relation to monocultures.
  10. Improved drainage and aeration of the soil, which gives more stability and diversity to the production.
  11. In the process, the incidence of pests and diseases is reduced because their life cycles are interrupted.
  12. Weed control is maintained, because, when soil temperature or moisture conditions do not allow it, smother crop species or cover crops are used as green manure or winter crops.
  13. As deeper rooted crops draw nutrients deeper, there is a better distribution of nutrients in the soil profile.
  14. Reduces the need for tillage, use of machinery and prevents soil compaction.

What are the disadvantages of crop rotation?

The disadvantages are related, above all, to production costs; some of these would be the following:

  • More equipment is necessary because not all seeds can be planted with the same equipment.
  • The same problem occurs in the harvest, because different crops, different teams.
  • The more crops there are, the more wisdom must be applied, because in each case one must know how to sow, how to cultivate, how to harvest, etc.
  • There may be less financial return, as some crops are more expensive than others.

What examples are the most common in crop rotation?

There are different types of intercropping.

  • Mixed, randomly sown.
  • Intercalated, sowing between one furrow and another, at a certain distance.
  • In plots, interspersed by the strips.

Some rules…

There are rules for rotations, such as:

  1. Do not repeat crops from the same family, because they consume the same nutrients, which depletes the soil.
  2. Order rotation based on nutrient requirement.
  3. Crops must be intercropped because that way resources are optimized.

Demanding and non-demanding crops

Crop rotation can be done, for example, between fastidious and non-fastidious crops.

Among the demanding ones we have Swiss chard, cabbage, corn, pumpkin; and among the non-demanding, legumes such as soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, and green manures.

We must combine the crops in an adequate way, in such a way that they allow the optimal yield and use of the nutrients of the demanding plants to enrich the land.

cabbage and carrots

One of the examples given is that of the rotation of cabbage and carrots with the aim of reducing the danger of the appearance of pests and diseases.

If we grow only cabbage on a piece of land, the pests that attack this type of plant would end up appearing, the same situation that would arise if we only planted carrots.

But by alternating between both species, the control becomes more expeditious, simpler and the use of pesticides is eliminated.

The importance of crop rotation also lies in keeping the soil covered, the use of crop time, the biological balance, the incorporation of stubble once the harvest is done at a minimum cost of production, sustainability and soil fertility.

Corn with legumes

Another example is the rotation of corn with legumes. Corn has a high requirement for nitrogen and phosphorus, and if corn is grown year after year, more and more of these nutrients will have to be provided in fertilization.

So, if it is rotated with some legume, such as beans, which is a nitrogen-fixing species, corn will be able to take advantage of the content and availability of this macronutrient that improves soil fertility.

Who invented crop rotation?

Crop rotation is known as the Norfolk system, because it began in 1730 on the estate of Lord Townshend in the town of Norfolk, United Kingdom.

Lord Townshend had been Secretary of State for England and ambassador to Holland and during his stay in this country he observed the characteristics of the sowing in the region.

When he retired from the diplomatic career, he dedicated himself to planting on his properties. Starting by draining the soil and fertilizing it, he started crops in regular rotations without depleting the land.

In this way, he planted meadows and fodder for cattle without the land becoming unproductive.

By rotating quadrennially, following the order of wheat, turnips, barley, and alfalfa, he increased productivity.

Lord Townshend’s proposal was taken to the British Crown and from there to the nobility, where it was received with great receptivity as they themselves verified, by their own hand, the effectiveness of sowing following this procedure.

For this reason, Lord Townshend is considered the inventor of crop rotation, since his formulas are still applied today in countless countries.

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