When planning for a crop rotation there are many elements you need to consider. The most important thing is understanding the concept of a ‘perfect rotation’… but we’ll get to that later. Firstly, we need to acknowledge that there are several factors beyond our control, weather being the main one. Uncontrollable variables mean that plans always change, and change is consistent…. but let’s look at the things we can control.
A. At a top level, what do you want to work towards with the land base(s) i.e. transition to a different crop, increase stock carrying capacity, or build soil carbon perhaps?
B. What are the goals you want to achieve i.e.DM/ha.?
C. What do you know about the history of the paddocks?
D. Do you need to bear additional things in mind, such as specific stock health issues, soil health, or biodiversity?
Once these things clear, there are a few basic points you should consider to ensure satisfying results – without blowing the budget…
To address any mineral deficiencies that may negatively impact your crop, it is essential to understand the fertility and what the nutrient requirements of your crops are. The initial growth stage of the plant has a strong influence on the potential yield of the crop. Whether you are cultivating, strip tilling or direct drilling, it is key to get the fertility right and in line with what you plan to grow. This will give the crop the best chance of getting a good start and fighting competition. Make sure you have comprehensive soil tests on the individual Land Management Units that cover all bases, not just a few.
Some crops are hungrier than others. Tall crops are often big potassium consumers, where protein rich crops often rely on good phosphate and sulphur supply. Once you have a good understanding of the fertility of the land, you can then decide whether you’ll likely be able to bring the soil up to the appropriate level for the desired crop, or whether a different crop should be selected that suits the soil better.
Seed selection is dependent on many factors such as the fertility of the land, soil type, purpose of the crop, climate, in the case of grazing - what class of stock will be grazing it, and much more. However, diversity brings stability – diversifying the landscape or crop has a raft of benefits; it can provide animals with a well-rounded diet, but also means more diverse rooting systems to aid soil structure and support soil health. Seed selection is equally important for paddocks that are coming out of crop and need to recover from an intensive rotation, or are dealing with a particular issue.
- The history of the field is an important aspect that needs to be considered to avoid crossover of soil borne disease.
- Whilst we tend to focus predominantly on the production aspect of a crop, most crops tend to have a set of additional features such as nutrient mining, improving soil structure, and legumes (not just clover) for nitrogen fixation etc.
We don’t expect a high-performance athlete to play day in day out without a rest, so why would we expect this of our soil?
It’s a fact that some crops simply aren’t great for soil health, but we’re often willing to put up with this for the return. Problems due to poor soil health usually don’t show up immediately, but rather creep in slowly over time - a bit like human health issues that arise from fatigue and poor nutrition over time. If you are aware of crops taking a heavy toll on soil, a rest period should be included in the rotation. Giving the paddocks adequate rest between crops will allow soil structure and biodiversity to recover, leading to an increase of soil, plant, and animal health.
If there is a strategic direction that you want to work towards, i.e. you want to rotate crops to work towards permanent pastures, then a multi-year plan can be drafted up. But again, plans change and this is okay. As long as the decisions stay in line with the strategic direction that you want to take your farm.
Ongoing monitoring of the crop is essential. Whether the issue is mineral, pest or diseases, if you can identify early, you are able to rectify the problem and get things back on track. Herbage tests throughout the growing season will paint a good picture of what nutrients the plant is taking up, and what the plant is lacking. Identifying mineral deficiency is one thing, but addressing it is another. Foliar applications are becoming increasingly popular due to the efficiency and efficacy of the application.
Now about that ‘perfect rotation’ we mentioned… we’re sorry to say, that we don’t have the ‘perfect plan’ for the next five years in a clear table worked out for your farm… yet. We are aware that many of the points mentioned above will always be in the back of your mind throughout the season, but having said that, it’s not a guarantee that these principles are always successfully adhered to when planning.
Change is a constant, therefore your crop rotation plan may always change also. That’s okay and there is no straight ‘right or wrong’ because you will have had your reasons for your decisions. It’s about doing it as well as possible in the situation provided.
Soil Matters’ experienced team have learnt about the different traits of different crops over the, nearly, two decades that we have been doing what we do. If you want someone to discuss your crop rotation plan with, or would like someone to come and visit you from time to time to check on crops throughout the growing season, then get in touch.