4 Reasons Why Crop Rotation is Essential in Regen Farming
by Evan DeMarco on Nov 22, 2022
Regenerative farming aims to improve the land, even when using it for crops and livestock. It goes a step farther than sustainable farming, which maintains the status quo. With regenerative techniques like crop rotation, the environment actually ends up better off.
Developing good soil health is a complex matter: because the topsoil layer is rapidly depleting, it’s more important than ever to adopt regenerative farming methods. Crop rotation is essential to regenerative farming.
Here’s how crop rotation helps preserve the planet.
What is crop rotation?
“Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure,” reports the Rodale Institute. Think of it as a way to keep the nutrients in the soil: if one crop depletes the nitrogen in the topsoil layer, farmers can restore balance by planting a crop that returns nitrogen to the soil.
On the other hand, if you practice monocropping—planting just one type of crop—it continues to deplete the nutrients. This not only depletes the nutrient content, it also ensures that plant-specific pests have an established home. In turn, farmers have to use increasing amounts of fertilizer to protect the plants. Unfortunately, synthetic and chemical fertilizers can harm the soil, the groundwater supply and the soil microbiome. Rotating crops allows the soil time to recover and promotes biodiversity. They key is to plant different crops who thrive in different seasons, and who have different kinds of root systems.
Why crop rotation is essential
Here’s why crop rotation is so key:
- Improves soil structure: Soil can disappear faster than most people realize. Root systems can help prevent topsoil erosion, and improve the soil’s health overall. Planting multiple crops with diverse root systems help promote a healthy microbiome, starting with the roots. Carbon and nitrogen primarily come from plant root systems. That’s why planting cover crops and winter crops is good for the soil: the different root systems deliver different types of nutrients back into the soil. The more the crops are varied, the more balanced the microbiome will be.
- Helps support soil conservation: Crop rotation can be used in conjunction with other soil conservation methods. For example, farmers who rotate their crops can also use no-till planting methods, which helps trap carbon, prevent erosion and improve the soil’s biodiversity.
- Allows farmers to turn a profit: When used correctly, crop rotations can help farmers turn a profit. They’ll need commercially viable crops with different growing seasons, and the equipment to perform the necessary tasks—but in turn, they’re more likely to produce healthy crops with less of a need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
- Reduces reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides: Speaking of synthetic additives, crop rotation can help reduce reliance on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. This has the added benefit of preserving the health of surface and groundwater supplies.
A time-tested practice
Crop rotation and other regenerative practices have been used for millennia, particularly in indigenous societies. The key is to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to crop rotation and regenerative practices. For example, wheat is a great crop to add to a crop rotation—but not every farmer can grow wheat. It’s important that farmers research and experiment until they find the right balance of crops to replenish the soil, and return a decent profit.
The most important part of crop rotation is to find crops who have different root systems and nutritional needs. The more varieties of living roots that go into the soil, the healthier the soil microbiome will be.
Finding regeneratively farmed foods
Finding regeneratively farmed foods can be tough, especially because there are dozens of food labels to sort through: organic, free-range, all-natural and others can be misleading. However, supporting regenerative sources of food is one of the best ways you can support healthier farming practices.
This website helps consumers find regenerative farms near them, from produce and meat to honey and dairy. Thousands of farms across North America are represented, and farmers can proactively add their farms. You can even select farms by what kind of regenerative practices they use, including cover cropping and crop rotation. Farms near you may have a presence in grocery stores or local farmers’ markets, making it even easier to pick up environmentally healthy foods.
As we confront the harm climate change is causing, it’s important to support ecologically friendly food production. Buying from farms who use crop rotation is a great way to protect the planet, and get some nutritionally-dense, flavorful foods.