Crop Rotation

  • Boris BoinceanEmail author
  • David Dent


Crop rotation is the cheapest and most effective way to improve crop yields and soil fertility. The principles are (1) diversity of crops in time and space at the field and landscape levels—to increase the crops’ innate capacity to suppress weeds, pests and disease; (2) alternation of crops with different rooting depths; (3) each complete crop rotation should maintain or increase soil organic matter. On the Black Earth across the Steppes and Prairies, it pays to match different crops with appropriate predecessors and to respect the terms of return of the same crop to the same field. For winter wheat, the loss of yield from a crop sown after a late-harvested predecessor such as corn, compared with an early-harvested predecessor such as oats-and-vetch, is twice the benefit from applying fertilizer: almost 2 t/ha compared with less than 1 t/ha. Inherent soil fertility contributes 90% of the yield of wheat after early-harvested predecessors but only 50% under continuous wheat; poorer soil performance has to be compensated by higher rates of mineral fertilizers and pesticides. Fertilizers cannot replace crop rotation. Continuous monocrops yield less than crops grown in rotation, both on unfertilized and fertilized plots; nitrogen-use and water-use efficiency are significantly better in crop rotations. The effect of crop rotation (the difference between yields in crop rotation and continuous cropping) is greater for winter wheat and sugar beet compared with corn-for-grain and sunflower. The Steppes are getting dryer. This increases the importance of water held deep in the soil and increases the value of crops like lucerne with deep and abundant root systems. However, crops with deep roots and a long growing season dry out the soil more than shallow-rooted crops with a short growing season so, in a crop rotation, the time interval between deep-rooting crops should be at least 2 years to allow recharge of soil water. Counter-intuitively, less water is accumulated from rain and snowmelt under black fallow than under crops. Different crops offer different degrees of protection from soil erosion. The ratio between protective, compact-drilled crops and row crops that give little protection should be determined by the steepness of slopes at the landscape level.


Principles of crop rotation Effect of rotation Predecessor crops Terms of return Water-use efficiency Nitrogen-use efficiency Fertilization 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Selectia Research Institute of Field Crops and Alecu Russo Bălţi State UniversityBaltiMoldova
  2. 2.Chestnut Tree Farm, Forncett EndNorfolkUK

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