Crop Rotation 101: A Guide to Crop Rotation in Canada
Feb 7, 2018
No matter what you grow—be it corn, soybeans, canola, or another crop altogether—your task as a farmer is to make the most of the land you have. Your weed and pest pressure, soil nutrients and chemistry choices all play a part in delivering a hefty yield at the end of the growing season. One of the most efficient ways to control all of these factors is to practice crop rotation.
Crop rotation is the tactic of planting different crops from one year to the next. For instance, one year you might plant Roundup Ready canola, and the following year you might use those same acres to grow Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans. Farmers all over Canada have been reaping the benefits of well-planned crop rotations for years, and for good reason. The benefits of rotating crops are many, including:
Improve yield potential
According to the Canola Council of Canada, canola planted into canola stubble yields 10-20% less than canola planted into pulse or wheat stubble. When you consider the size of the average Canadian farm, that’s a lot of yield to leave on the table.
Minimize glyphosate tolerance in weeds
Weeds compete with the crop for nutrients in the soil. While weeds can be controlled with herbicides, herbicides that are effective against certain weed groups may also harm the crop, leaving weeds to propagate and create more competition. Roundup Ready crops are equipped to resist glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides. However, ongoing application can cause weeds to begin to develop resistance to glyphosate. On a national scale, glyphosate resistance could have disastrous effects on Canadian agriculture. It’s important to control resistance by rotating crops that call for different herbicide formulas. Your crops will continue to react as expected to the chemistry, and you’ll be practicing good stewardship for the generations to come.
Promote healthy, fertile soil
Each plant is made up of different compounds that nourish and grow the product that becomes your yield. Every year, the stubble of a plant leaves behind trace amounts of compounds that replenish the soil. Just like consuming an assortment of fruit and vegetables has nutritional benefits for your body, rotating between crops has nutritional benefits for the earth. Soil that has been naturally fertilized by a variety of plants will require fewer added nutrients, saving you money and fueling your plants to yield more.
Keep pests at bay
The insects on your fields have colonized there because the plants in the environment provide suitable food supplies for their needs. If you continue to grow the same crop year over year—we’ll use corn as an example—pests like corn rootworm have a great opportunity to continue to strengthen their colonies, using your crop as their home base. Traited corn seeds help to control these pests using proteins that the problem insects cannot digest, but the best practice is to stop the populations of insects from establishing. Rotating into other crops, like alfalfa or soybeans, can “confuse” these pests and force them to find somewhere else to source their food.
Control the spread of disease
Research has shown that tight crop rotations in canola have increased incidents of blackleg. This is related to residual disease microorganisms that survive in the soil. The longer the rotation timeframe, the lower your risk of passing on strains of disease to future crops.
Diversify your income streams
Commodity prices change often, and some growers prefer to wait for the best price for their bins. Growing a variety of crops allows farmers to test different markets, and determine which crops perform better on their land. Growing multiple crops in the same season gives you more options when trading your products, giving you more control and flexibility over your income.
There’s a rotation for your farm
Introducing a crop rotation into your farm doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, the principles of rotation are highly flexible, giving farmers many options while still taking advantage of the benefits. You can choose a tighter rotation (for example, rotating from canola to wheat and back to canola) or diversify your rotation with more crops over numerous years. Tight rotations can work for Western Canadian canola farmers, but for optimal results, all growers are advised to practice a minimum three-year rotation incorporating a cereal, a broadleaf and a pulse. Corn, canola and soybeans are excellent choices for a three-year rotation plan in Western Canada, as each are reasonably consistent in demand and can be grown in most regions. In Eastern Canada, it’s not recommended to grow canola. Eastern Canadian growers can incorporate alternative broadleaf crops, such as buckwheat; or other cereals, like wheat and barley, into their rotations for optimal results.
If you plan to start a crop rotation plan, your best results will be with a four-year rotation. The more diverse your rotation, the better your crops will fare with preventing weed pressure, reducing glyphosate resistance in weeds and increasing yield potential. Rotating genetic traits within the same species, such as two different corn hybrids, will not achieve the results of a true rotation. Always ensure you are choosing an appropriate selection of crops in the broadleaf, cereal and pulse families.
Agronomists are great resources to help you get started with a crop rotation plan. If you aren’t already working with an agronomist, their depth of knowledge and familiarity with the local conditions is an invaluable addition to your farm. Agronomists can help you determine which crop varieties will work for you in your region, and can make recommendations on seed hybrids based on what they’ve seen on farms with similar growing conditions. Find a seed partner near you here.