Crop rotation

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Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons for various benefits such as to avoid the build up of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one species is continuously cropped. Crop rotation also seeks to balance the fertility demands of various crops to avoid excessive depletion of soil nutrients. A traditional element of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals and other crops. It is one component of polyculture. Crop rotation can also improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants.


Method and purpose

Crop rotation avoids a decrease in soil fertility, as growing the same crop in the same place for many years in a row disproportionately depletes the soil of certain nutrients. With rotation, a crop that leaches the soil of one kind of nutrient is followed during the next growing season by a dissimilar crop that returns that nutrient to the soil or draws a different ratio of nutrients, for example, rice followed by cotton. By crop rotation farmers can keep their fields under continuous production, without the need to let them lie fallow, and reducing the need for artificial fertilizers, both of which can be expensive. Rotating crops adds nutrients to the soil. Legumes, plants of the family Fabaceae, for instance, have nodules on their roots which contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria. It therefore makes good sense agriculturally to alternate them with cereals (family Poaceae) and other plants that require nitrates. An extremely common modern crop rotation is alternating soybeans and maize (corn). In subsistence farming, it also makes good nutritional sense to grow beans and grain at the same time in different fields.

Crop rotation is a type of cultural control that is also used to control pests and diseases that can become established in the soil over time. The changing of crops in a sequence tends to decrease the population level of pests. Plants within the same taxonomic family tend to have similar pests and pathogens. By regularly changing the planting location, the pest cycles can be broken or limited. For example, root-knot nematode is a serious problem for some plants in warm climates and sandy soils, where it slowly builds up to high levels in the soil, and can severely damage plant productivity by cutting off circulation from the plant roots. Growing a crop that is not a host for root-knot nematode for one season greatly reduces the level of the nematode in the soil, thus making it possible to grow a susceptible crop the following season without needing soil fumigation.

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