What Rotations Give the Biggest Soil Health Boost?

December 21, 2016 02:58 PM
What Rotations Give the Biggest Soil Health Boost?

Crop rotations affect many aspects of a given field, from nutrient uptake to overall soil health. A recent joint study from Purdue University and USDA suggests not all crop rotations are equal.

Researchers Diane Stott, a national soil health specialist at USDA-NRCS and adjunct professor of soil science for Purdue, along with Ashley Hammac, postdoctoral research associate, saw definite rotational differences. One of their findings – grasslands that aren’t fertilized still had the same nutrient profiles as agricultural land. That led Hammac to wonder if rotation into pasture could be good for soil health.

“A long time ago, perennial pasture used to be in the rotation,” Hammac says. “To me, this says we need to be looking at putting two years of pasture back into the rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat if we want to improve soil quality.”

The next-best option, according to the researchers, is adding small grains such as wheat into the rotation. These fields contained good macro-aggregate stability, which affects how well water filters through soil rather than run off it.

“A lot of soil health is really about being able to deal with weather extremes, and a lot of it boils down to water,” Stott says. “Usually, having wheat or other small grains one in three years improves the structural stability of the soil.

Soil health drops more and more as corn is planted more often, the researchers note. Stott is insistent that understanding soil health changes due to various factors – including crop rotations – is critical in maintaining high crop yields long-term.

“We’ve taught our farmers really well over the years how to manage the chemistry of the soil,” she says. “The physical component they do an OK job, but there are still some significant areas for improvement, especially in the biological component, which is critical for soil structure, nutrient cycling and other ecosystem services. Now, we need to be able to accurately measure those changes.”

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Spell Check

Hennessey, OK
12/21/2016 06:21 PM

  If rotated out to at least beans you could probably do 300 corn at least try....70 yrs and no change come on

Caledonia, MN
12/24/2016 09:19 AM

  We have another cover crop farm a mile north, they are converting to organic, evidence / weedy corn fields, their Dad would role over in his grave if he seen their fields. Late this fall, they were working up this corn field, spent days doing it, it seemed, can see the field from our place. Were still disking it one evening, 8:00, with rented big tractor & seeded with rented grain drill. The tractor burned, seen fire department lights at 9:00, they were leaving the scene. Tractor is still sitting there, big Red is poor advertizing now. So no growth in the seed, i suspect they will combine the rye for seed next year, but it will deplete any nitrogen left in the field. They are dairy farmers, south side of County. It was a warm Fall here, so the rye should of really took off across from our mail box, but 2 inches growth is all. One other farmer, just north of us too / line fence, planted rye last year on some corn silage strips, not this year. They did it with a regular drill, no tillage, some places it didn't even come. They didn't seed any this Fall. Oh, dairy east of our mail box, used big rented tractor & their no till grain drill from their friends. They also field cultivated before seeding, big expence there & time, to what advantage???

Caledonia, MN
12/27/2016 09:48 PM

  So why didn't Snow Pack leave their cover crop grow, till almost the end of June, when they finally planted it??? 2 years they distroyed it in late April, & planted nothing. Neighbor to the north round baled the rye in mid June & finally planted corn, a year ago. Rye doesn't add nitrogen, when you completely take it off the land. You want corn yield, you plant it early, not in late June. I believe the dairy land to the east of our mail box seeded rye cover crop, to qualify for the Farm Program. I use to add only a 100 pound of nitrogen for continious corn, but like i said, add 100 pounds of AMS this year, that's like 20 pounds more, right?? I plant at 31,600, 36 inch rows. I bet your following soybeans, right? & much higher population, & probably 30 inch rows. We had a hard killing frost May 15th this year, my corn went from the best looking corn in the neighborhood to the worst, over night & still yielded 232. I bale corn stalks off for cattle bedding, but haul the manure back, make stacks. I don't soil test, yield is what counts. I add potash & p, the total of all 3 was like 490 per acre. Spread with air flow spreader. So your 3 ft green manure crop of corn was planted when??? & 250 yield, you live in south central, Iowa from what i gather. Big difference from SE MN.


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