While reviewing some interesting material I received recently at the No-Till on the Plains Winter Conference in Salina, Kan., I came upon a Top 10 list — one that pertains to farming, not pop culture or show business.
Are you thinking about diversifying your farm’s rotation this year with an alternative crop or cover crops? Dwayne Beck, manager of the 900-acre Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, S.D., shared some tips for making these potentially complicated decisions:
- Reduced-tillage or no-till systems favor the inclusion of alternative crops. Tilled systems may not.
- A two-season interval between growing a given crop, or crop type, is preferred. Some broadleaf crops require a longer rotational interval.
- Chemical fallow isn’t as effective at breaking weed, disease and insect cycles as are black or green fallow, or production of a properly chosen crop.
- Rotations should be sequenced to make it easy to prevent volunteer plants from the previous crop from becoming a weed problem.
- Producers with livestock enterprises often find it less difficult to introduce diversity into rotations.
- Crops destined for direct human food use pose the highest risk and highest potential return.
- The desire to increase diversity and intensity needs to be balanced with profitability.
- Soil-moisture storage is affected by surface residue amounts, intercrop period, the snow-catching ability of stubble, rooting depth and soil characteristics, precipitation patterns, organic-matter content and other factors.
- Seedbed conditions at seeding time can be controlled by using crops with differing characteristics in residue color, level, distribution and architecture.
- Rotations that aren’t consistent in either crop sequence or crop interval guard against pest-species shifts, and reduce the chances of developing resistant, tolerant or adapted pest species.
With all the challenges no-tillers face with insect pests, crop diseases and herbicide-resistant weeds, well-planned crop rotations are an important tool in a no-tiller’s toolbox. Maybe it’s time to take another look at them.