They go together like salt and pepper – they’re better together
When you have a strong and varied crop rotation, it produces a greater diversity in the soil microbiome, which improves activity both above and below the surface. One of the most critical parts about a healthy crop rotation is bacteria – both good and bad – because when you change crops, you change pathogens.
“You have positive and negative fungus and bacteria,” says Garth Donald, Decisive Farming’s agronomy manager. “The diseases they create are different. Everybody says barley and wheat are the same because they’re both cereals. Yes, but they have completely different diseases that affect them.”
When you eliminate the pathogen within the disease triangle, the cycle is broken for that crop year, which allows the soil to biologically catch its breath. Newly rotated plants help to lower negative bacterial counts from previous crops.
In the Canadian prairies, where you farm uniquely informs the length of your rotation as well as crop types. Donald says you should have minimum three-crop rotation, but four is ideal. It’s common to hear greater returns around seven to 10 per cent on longer rotations versus tighter, two-crop rotations.
Balance financial and plant sustainability
While you need to have healthy soil as part of a strong crop rotation, it must be financially sustainable or else you could be in trouble. Sometimes that causes us to shorten rotations or deal with herbicide carryover, which Donald says is common considering record-high commodity prices.
“Lots comes back to economics,” he says. “Rotation is important, but we also have to be realistic about return on investment and how to manage that sustainably, too.”
Although we sometimes think about chemfallow, Donald says that should be a last resort since it’s susceptible to needless erosion. It can also be detrimental if the harvested crop was a pulse.
“Regarding soil health, chemfallow is actually going to hurt you and your soil health, because you see more dirt blowing,” he says.
Pulse power to lower your carbon footprint
If a cereal is planted after a pulse you will see a noticeable boost due to the pulse’s nitrogen fixing ability
“We see the positives of the relationship of that interaction of different species and crops and what the yield’s potential can be based on less disease pressure,” he says.
A solid four-crop rotation, including a pulse, helps drive yield. Donald often hears the argument of applying a fungicide and farmers believing that increased their yield. However, he questions if it only shows its potential, and that yield simply wasn’t lost.
As your crops create their own nitrogen, Donald notes that, “it reduces the amount of nitrous oxide that would be placed into the environment”, a big plus for sustainable agriculture.
Digital management – no exceptions
You log gigabyte after gigabyte of data with every pass of the tractor. But how do you store and access this data?
“There’s nothing wrong with using paper, but the challenge is when you’re gone to Arizona for the winter, let me guess: the book is still in the seeding tractor or sprayer,” says Donald.
With a digital log using farm management software, you can review fields, input rates and create a plan from the comfort of wherever you find yourself.
“There are digital platforms that provide you with knowledge at your fingertips,” he says. “If you are trying to plan, it has to be the digital platform.”