Why exactly should we plant different crops sequentially over a period of time? What’s wrong with planting the same crop on the same piece of land over and over again? These are some of the questions that are asked as regards crop rotation and why it’s beneficial to nature.
Crop rotation goes as far back as 6000 BC when middle Eastern farmers practiced it. Although they didn’t know the term for it, they realized that cultivating the same crop on the same land was not healthy and decided to alternate planting legumes and cereals.
Today, crop rotation is a huge part as agriculture and is even considered one of the sustainable agricultural practices. One of the biggest benefits of crop rotation is how it makes for better nitrogen management.
Plants need nitrogen to survive. It is a crucial part of their DNA and plants get it either organically or through artificial fertilizers. One of the ways the soil can get nitrogen for plants is through symbiotic bacteria. The bacteria lives on the roots of leguminous crops such as soybeans and peas and thus, when a farmer plants these type of crops, the soil is enriched with nitrogen.
Cereal crops cultivated after legumes will have access to the sufficient nutrients deposited by the legumes. The crop will grow in a nitrogen enriched soil which increases yields. When that crop uses up the nitrogen, the leguminous crops can be planted again and the cycle continues.
In comparison with artificial application of nitrogen, this process is better for the environment. Research shows that nitrogen from legumes remains in the soil longer than the nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers. This is because they are less likely to run off fields and pollute streams. Therefore crop rotation is also beneficial to the environment by reducing pollution.
Crop rotation also improves soil structure. When farmers cultivate on a particular land continuously, without letting it regain its nutrients, it can weaken the the soil structure affect the productivity of the soil. This further affects the yield of crops grown on this land.
Another importance of crop rotation to agriculture is its contribution to reducing erosion. Some crops have deep roots while others have shallow roots. Rotating between crops with deep roots and shallow roots helps to battle against erosion. A more stable soil structure will also help bring down erosion.
The system also controls pest attacks. Sometimes pests make homes for themselves near the farmland because of the constant supply of their food. To counter this, the system of crop rotation allows for planting different crops, which makes it harder for these pests to destroy the crops.
This does not mean that crop rotation is without its flaws. As beneficial as it is to the environment, it can also have its downsides. For instance, it discourages specialization in a specific type of crop. For the system to work the farmer has to plant different types of crops.
Each crop has its own requirements so the farmer has to keep changing farm activities or equipment to suit the planted crops and this can be costly. Some farmers may save up seeds from the last planting season but are unable to plant it due to crop rotation and end up incurring costs they could have saved.
Farmers need to understand the system properly before carrying it out. This is because improper crop rotation could cause more harm than good. Crop rotation is not about rotating just any set of crops. A farmer has to understand what crops can be planted in succession and the appropriate planting season for the crops.
With the advantages and disadvantages of this system of planting presented to you, what do you think? Does crop rotation actually benefit agriculture?