Emily Reiss

Farmer-Centered Agriculture Consulting

The art of rotation planning

Ahh, rotation planning. I feel like this is the stage where anything is possible. No wet springs have prevented planting, or dry summers stalled out crop growth. We still imagine that all will go as planned. That 7 year rotation full of diverse crop families and regular cover cropping can be a reality! But then, with pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), the reality starts to sink in. Well we don’t have a market for x acres of crop A, even though that’s what we’ll have if we use this rotation. Or, we really need more of crop C, but we need 5 years between plantings of crop C, and we don’t have enough suitable acres to do that.

Farming is always about compromises. Simplistically, I think you can go about rotation planning in two ways. One way; what are the acres of each crop you need to supply your markets, or make the finances work out? Another way; what is your ideal rotation based on soil health, disease suppression, cover cropping, equipment demands, and then divide up your acres each year based on the proportions of the crops in that rotation? I have to imagine that 9 times out of 10, these two will not match up. This is where the compromises come in.

But maybe that’s where the fun is! No one knows your fields, customers, labor capacity, better than you. Of course this is still a daunting task. This is a puzzle where when you move one piece it may mean that another one now doesn’t fit. It’s an iterative process that will take time to get it to a place that feels right. And then that wet spring will force you to end up changing everything that you worked out just right. And maybe, that opens up an opportunity to try something new, or maybe you just chalk that up to Mother Nature. Regardless, the plants will grow, pulling us along with them. Until next winter, when we can dream again about that perfect rotation plan…


An always valuable resource: https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Crop-Rotation-on-Organic-Farms

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