The Top 3 Factors That Affect Crop Rotation Success (with examples)

Reading time — 6 min
OneSoil shares with you our 3 top rules to build your crop rotation schemes that make all the difference (+ bonus examples).
Crop rotation short guide with examples_Cover_OneSoil Blog
There are a gazillion factors to consider when building an effective crop rotation chart. But what if we told you that three was enough? These three are crops diversity, geographic conditions, and the time interval between crops. In this article, we'll discuss each of these factors in detail. We'll also share the effective crop rotation charts built with the above factors in mind.

Content

Crop rotation. Definition and key advantages

Crop rotation is the practice of growing different types of crops in the same area. For example, during the first season, we grow barley, then winter wheat in the next season, followed by corn in the third. Crop rotation charts often include fallow fields, i.e., idle fields where the soil recovers for the next season.

Crop rotation has several advantages when compared to a monoculture:

  • Crop rotation allows you to fight pests more effectively.
  • It prevents soil depletion.
  • And crop rotation makes it possible to get better insurance terms from insurance companies.
You can learn more about crop rotation and why farmers need it in our blog. For now, let's try to build some great crop rotation charts.

How to build a crop rotation chart: tips and tricks

Before we start, we should note there are many secondary factors besides the three key factors that impact crop rotation effectiveness in any particular area (whims of nature, terrain, soil acidity, etc.). Sometimes effective crop rotation charts don't work out as planned, while ineffective ones yield impressive profits. Does that mean that crop rotation charts should be built at random? Nope! It means that crop rotation is a great tool to go for great yields; it's not a fix-all.
Three major factors that affect your crop rotation success_OneSoil Blog
Examples of effective crop rotations by OneSoil
Alrighty, let's get down to building some great crop rotation charts!

#1 The more diverse your chart is, the better

Diversity as the basis of the efficient crop rotation chart_OneSoil Blog
The more plants you include in your crop rotation chart, the higher your chances are of getting a great harvest.

Example: cotton 一 rice 一 corn

A complex crop rotation chart improves the soil's chemical makeup. Here's how it works:

  • Nutrient depletion in the soil varies by plant.
  • The depth of the root system varies in different plants, so it means that they can get nutrients from different soil layers.
  • Plant residue forms a new layer of humus. The more diverse it is, the better the chemical makeup of the humus will be.
Furthermore, a complex crop rotation sequence is a reliable preventive measure to fight the pests.

Let's say you choose to plant corn year after year. Over time, pests will develop resistance to the pest control products you use (insecticides, herbicides, etc.) If you don't plan on switching to a different pest control product, crop rotation could be a way out. For example, to fight nematodes, try planting crops that can't be hosts for them.

Another method that will help you make your crop rotation sequence more complex and effective is to establish perennials or pastures. Perennials are a natural source of valuable soil nutrients. For example, legumes enrich the soil with nitrogen. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria form a symbiotic relationship with leguminous plants and actually thrive in them. You can save a fortune on nitrogen! Moreover, thanks to their powerful root system, perennials prevent soil erosion from wind and water.

Example: corn 一 soybeans 一 corn 一 soybeans 一 alfalfa 一 alfalfa 一 alfalfa 一 alfalfa.

#2 Consider your location

Consider geography and climate to build efficient crop rotation schemes_OneSoil Blog
Crop rotation sequences work better in the specific locations and climates that they are built for. That means that crop rotation sequences can vary a lot, even within the same country. For example, a great crop rotation sequence for Oklahoma won't be as effective in Texas. The climate and soils of Russia's dry steppe zone differ drastically from what Krasnodar Krai has. These two regions' respective crop rotation sequences won't have much in common, either.

Let's take a look at a crop rotation sequence for arid regions. Here, all the crop rotation sequences are aimed first and foremost at water retention. Knowing that allows us to focus on choosing which crops to grow. Vegetables, gourds, medicinal plants, essential oil plants, and tobacco aren't a great fit in dry regions because they have their own kind of crop rotation that requires highly fertile soils and lots of water.

Example: winter wheat — potato — alfalfa — alfalfa — alfalfa — corn for silage.

To intensify your crop rotation sequence in dry areas, we recommend adding cover crops. They allow you to:

  • Maintain soil fertility
  • Structure the soil
  • Increase organic matter content
  • Retain moisture.
To maximize the positive effect from cover crops, try combining them with no-till farming. No-till farming means maintaining soil integrity and using living mulch and stover in the fields. This method helps retain moisture and increase soil fertility.

Example: wheat — fallow field — flax — wheat — barley.

#3 Alternate the intervals between crops

Interval diversification for better crops_OneSoil Blog
The combination of long and short intervals between planting the same type of crop is as important as crop diversity.

Biodiversity is the basis of life, so Mother Nature will do anything to keep all those bugs and beetles alive. That means the pests may develop a new survival strategy, such as migration to another field to lay eggs or increasing diapause duration. To prevent that from happening, vary the intervals between planting the same types of crops.

Example: corn — corn — soybeans — soybeans — barley — barley.
What stands behind such a weird crop rotation sequence?
Dr. Dwayne L. Beck, an American agriculture researcher, described in detail a case that sparked the crop rotation sequence above (which may seem a little weird to many).

The central figure in this story is the corn rootworm. Location 一 Corn Belt, USA. The corn rootworm is a frequent visitor to the many cornfields in this area. Local farmers fight it using both pest control products and crop rotation (e.g., corn 一 soybeans). In the past, the soybeans would reduce the pest population. However, after several intervals of a corn-soybeans cycle, the rootworm had developed a new survival strategy. In the western part of the Corn Belt, the larvae laid dormant during the 'corn' summer didn't hatch the following spring in the soybeans fields. Instead, they waited another year to come out. In the eastern part, the female rootworm would fly to the soybeans fields to lay her eggs there. The rootworms figured out that the corn would be back after the soybeans in those fields, which means the larvae would have plenty of food to eat.

The reason for this mutation in the rootworm was the repeating crop sequence. In other words, the rootworms managed to learn to count to two (corn 一 soybeans). But it would be impossible for them to figure out a more varied crop interval.
Speaking of intervals, we can't help but mention another consequence of this: the negative impact that herbicide residues and their decay products have on crops in following seasons. It can manifest as stunted crop development, diseased plants, or even crop failure in extreme cases.

Moreover, different crops have different levels of susceptibility to herbicides' impact. For instance, we wouldn't recommend planting alfalfa following corn if the corn underwent triazine treatment the previous year. During the first year of alfalfa's life cycle, triazines are fatal to it. One more example refers to the Clearfield® production system. It also imposes certain limitations on the range of crops to use in your crop rotation charts because it requires specific Clearfield®-resistant hybrids, such as Clearfield Plus® wheat, Clearfield® canola, Clearfield® barley, etc.

When working with herbicides, carefully read the manufacturer's recommendations!

How to build a crop rotation chart in the OneSoil app

Now that you know the basics, let's get down to work. With OneSoil mobile and web app you can store and edit all your crop rotation data in a neat and convenient manner using our crop rotation chart.

To create a crop rotation chart in the OneSoil web app:
  1. Go to the 'Crop Rotation' tab.
  2. Add crops, planting dates, harvest dates, and yield for each field in each season. You can add several crops to the same field.
Moreover, in the OneSoil web app, we can also build an effective crop rotation sequence for you automatically. To do that, specify the crops to plant in the current season and the area the crop will cover. The app will then automatically build the right crop rotation sequence for you. If you've already entered data for the previous years, the OneSoil app will build the chart with the predecessor crops in mind.
To build a crop rotation chart in the OneSoil mobile app (iOS/Android):

  1. Tap the 'Create crop rotation' button, and the crop rotation chart will open.
  2. Tap the 'Seasons' button and add the corresponding season.
  3. Go back to the crop rotation chart and enter your crops.

Text by Veronika Chizh
Illustrations by Dasha Sazanovich
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It's time to build some great crop rotation charts!
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