Conservation Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is defined by NRCS as the growing of different crops in sequence in the same field.

It has long been recognized as a practice that can increase yields by reducing the adverse impacts of pests such as weeds, plant disease and insects while promoting nitrogen cycling when using a legume in the rotation. In fact, crop rotation was widely practiced for this purpose long before chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilizers were available; however, crop rotation is still a common practice in Arkansas.

Some common crop rotations in Arkansas include alternating rice with soybean and alternating corn with cotton. Wheat is often included in both rotation scenarios while corn is increasingly included in rice and soybean rotations. Crop rotation is still a recommended practice for specific pests. For instance, the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture recommends crop rotation to help control nematodes in both soybean and cotton production. An increasingly important aspect of crop rotations is its value to slowing or reducing resistance to pesticides.

Crop rotation offers many conservation benefits as well, including:

  • Reduced runoff and erosion
    • Increased organic matter
    • Improved soil tilth and health
    • Reduced pests
    • Fewer chemicals needed
    • Better moisture efficiency
    • Higher yields
    • Improved aesthetics and wildlife habitat

These benefits will vary with soils, crops, climate, management and other factors. However, these benefits are important to increasing long-term profitability and sustainability. The USDA-NRCS provides financial incentives for conservation crop rotation (Practice 328) through programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Cover crops on farm, barns in back ground

Conservation crop rotation requirements for programs such as EQIP involves developing and following a conservation crop rotation that may include annual cropping, legumes in rotation, cover crops, and other similar crops used to improve soil health and/or prevent soil loss. The typical rotation may include 2-5 crops grown in sequence. This practice includes keeping records of what cropswill be planted each year in each field.

If cover crops are not used, the crop rotation must include one or more high residue crops, such as corn, rice, grain sorghum, and/or wheat for row crops. Cover crops could be a mix consisting of annual grasses and leguminous type forages. Producers must utilize a minimum of three different crops in the rotation; or two different crops, if a cover crop or perennial hay crop (two or more years) is used as one of the crops in rotation.

Crop rotation is a relatively low-cost practice, but financial incentive programs cost-share the expenses associated with the additional requirements for tillage and planting that may be associated with crop rotations. The low cost of implementation makes it a perfect practice to utilize in an EQIP application package, as it can increase your ranking with minimal investment. Crop rotation also lends itself to easily compliment other conservation practices such as 590-Nutrient Management, 595-Pest Management, 329-Residue Management, and 340-Cover Crops.

In summary, crop rotation is an important conservation and production practice and can be utilized in conservation programs. Crop rotations will likely become increasingly important as we face increased resistance to pesticides. For more information, contact your local County Extension Office or your local USDA Service Center.

– Mike Daniels