Confound Pests with Compound Rotations

Longtime no-till educator and practitioner Dwayne Beck urges growers to adopt a diverse mix of rotational crops to fight pests, reduce inputs and boost profits.

Jousting with Mother Nature usually isn’t successful over the long-haul, but with nimble footwork and hit-and-run rotation tactics, astute no-tillers can keep the old dame off balance long enough to boost their productivity and reduce their inputs

Dwayne Beck, the recently retired farm manager at Dakota Lakes Research Farm, near Pierre, S.D., says diverse and unpredictable crop rotations are the key to reducing the need for pesticides and for boosting profit potential beyond traditional commodity corn, soybean and wheat production. 

“I’m not talking about a corn and soybean rotation, that’s just an oscillation of a two-crop monoculture,” Beck says, noting that many no-tillers need to diversify their rotations beyond the staple crops to increase biodiversity, interrupt pest cycles and diversify income. He says even a corn, wheat and soybean rotation practiced year-after-year leaves growers open to developing weed and insect problems.

“At one time growing corn-soybean instead of growing corn-on-corn got growers away from corn rootworm,” he says. “Suddenly the western Corn Belt developed a genetic variant — extended diapause corn rootworm beetles — all because the corn-soybean oscillation was consistent in both its sequence and interval.

“We’ve done rotation studies at the farm for 40 years and the worst rotations are always every-other-year rotations,” he explains. “They’re bad because there is not sufficient time for the weed seed bank to decrease sufficiently. There is always 20-30% of whatever weed went to seed still viable in the field. 

“Tillage isn’t the answer because buried seeds remain dormant for many years…

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Dan crummett 0618

Dan Crummett

Dan Crummett has more than 35 years in regional and national agricultural journalism including editing state farm magazines, web-based machinery reporting and has an interest in no-till and conservation tillage. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from Oklahoma State Univ.

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