Diverse No-Till Cropping Wins Again

USDA researchers in North Dakota say recent studies show benefits to having perennials and annuals in a rotation, and that no-till is the best implementation tool.

Pictured Above: DUAL PURPOSE. With many acres coming into farm production as Conservation Reserve Program contracts expire, North Dakota researchers with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service say their studies show benefits from including perennials and annuals in crop rotations for pest management, potential for improved yields and also wildlife benefits, but mostly to improve soil health

The advent of no-till practices has helped many growers in the semi-arid northern Plains conserve soil moisture and increase cropping intensity.

But there could be further opportunities for improving cropping diversity and soil health by raising both annual and perennial crops in rotations, according to new studies undertaken by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in North Dakota.

More and more growers are expressing an interest in planting different fields at different times with perennials and annuals. Most perennial plants can access deeper soil moisture than annual plants, so adding perennials to an annual cropping system may lessen risk, says John Hendrickson, research rangeland management specialist for the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratory in Mandan, N.D.

Hendrickson says these diverse systems offer producers stability and flexibility, and when combined with no-till, soil health can be improved. “There are a variety of potential benefits, including pest management, potential for improved yields and also wildlife benefits,” he says. “However, probably the largest focus has been on potential soil benefits.”

The payoff with improved soil health, Hendrickson says, is improved forage quantity and quality, as well as nutrient, carbon and water cycling. 

Hendrickson adds that as the climate gets…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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