Modern Agriculture is driven by the need to manage natural resources
that are being continually exhausted by the increasing world population and its
demand on food, fuel and fibre. New innovations and evolving farming practices
are helping farmers become more efficient in their farms, and reducing their
own economic outputs with the amount of natural resources they input while
continuously improving. Crop rotation is an old farming technique which is
still being used today however, with some slight alterations due to more
research being available on types of crops and their uses. Crop rotation first
came into farming techniques for the main use of soil fertility, because before
pre-bagged fertiliser existed keeping the yields high by using methods of
maintaining soil fertility were essential to keep farms running. (McConnell and
Soffe, 2003) Now it is used in an effort to help out the planet due to the
common and extensive use of these fertilisers.
Sustainable Agricultural Systems
Sustainable agriculture involves using farming techniques
that protect the environment, public health, human communities and animal
welfare while producing food, fibre and other plant or animal products. (GRACE
Communications Foundations, 2017) This is made easier with modern techniques
such as the increasing use of technology in farming. Being able to more
accurately forecast the weather through powerful algorithms being easily
accessible on mobile phones and the internet make knowing when and when not to
water a field much easier and more reliable. There is also the use of GPS on
the farm to know exactly where all crops are planted on larger farms, and can
be programmed into several tractors along with other vital information to
ensure the smooth running of a working farm. (Unknown, 2017) Programmes such as
ASSIST are run to help boost sustainable agriculture. The ASSIST programme aims
to develop and assess the effectiveness, impacts and robustness of novel mid
and far horizon agricultural systems and technologies to advance understanding
of Sustainable Intensification. Their research goals to help with sustainable
Identifying current and future biophysical
limitations on crop productivity in arable and grassland farming systems
Predicting the impacts of changes in
agricultural management on the wider environment
Understanding and enhancing the ecological
processes underpinning food production
Developing innovative farming systems which
minimise inputs while maximising yield, and build resilience to future
Providing tools and data for planning future
multi-functional land use that optimises benefits to food production whilst
minimising trade-offs and conflicts with other ecosystem services. (Pywell,
Crop Rotation is an old farming practice that has been used for many
years, however there is always new research going on to find out if there are new
and better rotations and cycles to be used on the ever modernising agricultural
The main objective of crop rotation is to contribute to the
achievement of a production that is profitable and sustainable, maintaining
soil fertility and health. (Florentin, 2011) It is the alternation of different crops on
the same field/area of land over a succession of usually around 4 years. The rotation is established before the
sequence begins and will most likely include a legume type crop to provide N to
the rotation. (LÆGREID, 1999) This encourages biodiversity within the farm
system among other advantages. Rotations have to work practically so that they
work smoothly from year to year, such as changing from crop to crop. This
usually goes from a summer crop to a winter crop, however the soil must be
ready for the next one without too much of a delay between the ground being
ready and the crops being planted. Otherwise there may be leaching problems and
the field may be lost for that particular crop. (McConnell and Soffe, 2003)
Sequencing of crops in the rotation of the specific area of land
will affect the availability and use of water, so therefore in turn affecting
crop yields. (DEFRA, 2017) Not to be confused with the different practice of
Crop Sequencing, this is different to crop rotation as the sequence of crops
rotated will not necessarily be followed year after year, whereas crop rotation
is set and will not change for years at a time. (FAO.org, Unknown, 2017)
However there are certain ways to get around this 2fixed2 system if it works
better and/or is necessary for the farmers’ needs and also the needs of the
soil, such as this series of set rotations:
(Watson, Stoddard, Murphy-Bokern, 2017)
Possible rotations have to include one of the following each
year due to certain nutritional requirements from the soil to maintain the
rotation sequence. These can include cereals, potatoes and root crops, pulse
crops e.g peas and beans, oilseeds and restorative crops.
Cereal Crop – Winter
Wheat is usually grown as a cash crop, however it can provide most of the cover
crop benefits that other cereal crops can. It is also much easier to manage
with better weed handling properties than rye or barley, also being easier kill,
and makes an excellent double crop. There is however no rush to kill wheat in
early spring as it is slower to mature than some other cereals therefore this
will also save the soil being compacted in wet weather. Depending on if it is grown
as a cover crop or for the grain, winter wheat adds rotation options for
underseeding a legume for forage or nitrogen. It is being increasingly used
because of how much cheaper it is than other crops. (Unknown, 2017)
Grass – This is very useful for farms where there are also animals kept,
such as dairy farms, as it is a self-sufficient way to feed all the livestock
on the farmer’s own farm. They also lead to increased soil quality and
fertility when legume crops are also used, with increased yields in subsequent
OSR – Oilseed Rape has seen a big increase in yield production
in this year of 2017 after seeing a steady decline over the past 5 years, this
shows that the weather has been more suited to the crop this year. (Jones,
2017) Oilseed rape can increase the nitrogen in the soil as its straw is
usually chopped and put back into the soil rather than being baled. It is also
beneficial in the rotation as it is from a different family to cereals, and
they thrive on the nitrate released by the decaying sward. (Unknown, 2017)
Legume Crop – Peas
and beans add a lot of nitrogen back
into the soil, known as residual N, and depending on the area of farmland the
results onto the following crop of wheat can boost yield up to 50%. (Unknown,
(McConnell and Soffe, 2003)
There are many different options for rotations other than the one
suggested, and for differing number of years. These are selected to the
discretion of the farmer for the benefit of the farmers’ own land and the crops
or animals on the land. For example instead of using a first and second wheat
in this rotation there could just be the single use of wheat and then use
spring barley if the farm has a blackgrass problem. Also if the farm has
livestock on it then the fields that are closest to the farm and/or have the
easiest accessibility will be used for grazing so that may factor into what the
rotation may be. Equally this could mean that elsewhere on the farm there may a
five or six year grass ley with winter wheat as a single break crop as it is
easier to keep grass for several years if it is well looked after.
Reduces toxicity of several substances in the soil, lower economic
risk, helps to achieve a more abundant and lasting soil cover, more uniform and
stable extraction of nutrients, favouring equilibrium in the soil profile by
alternating root systems with different characteristics and depths, efficiently
breaks the biological cycle of pests and diseases therefore making Conservation
Agriculture feasible. (Florentin, 2011) Cover crops can improve soil structure;
increase soil organic matter, water percolation, and beneficial insect
population; suppress weeds; reduce soil erosion; and fix residual N after grain
harvest (Jones, 1996) Crop rotation
increases the availability of nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for
fertilizers which in turn reduces greenhouse gases being emitted. Levels of productivity are also increased
with crop rotation by filling in fallow periods by growing alternative crops
that replenish the nutrients in the soil. Improvements in the soil by improving
soil stability with differing root lengths and helping with water pollution by
reducing water run-off from the fields. There is an increased ability to store
carbon through high crop cover periods, increasing the farm’s profitability.
There are many benefits to farmers created by crop rotation, such as
the reduced need for fertilizers and so therefore the use of machinery and the
time and staff to manage them. This is because when a legume crop is used in
the rotation it provides nitrogen into the soil which the other crops need to
survive and grow but they can’t take their own from the air – such as grass
crops. This means the use of fertilizers is required if no nitrogen is present
in the soil. Another benefit is the huge help in pest control that crop
rotation provides. There has been a huge push in the agricultural industry to
replace chemical pesticides by mechanical and biological control methods such
as larger widespread use of crop rotation. (Roth, 2017) Crop rotation takes away the host organism and
causes a disruption in the annual life cycle of insects, diseases and weeds.
This is because some pathogens that cause diseases live in the soil and from
year to year they build up the population each time the same crop is used in
that same area. (Nunez, 2010) Overall the main benefit to the farmer’s
enterprises of crop rotation is better yield for his crops and therefore
increasing farm profitability through less expenses being put in but with more
and better quality product being produced and higher prices increasing the
The Wider Agricultural Economy
Reducing agriculture’s dependence on external inputs by nutrient
recycling within the soil due to rotation, maintenance of the long term
productivity of the land. Most external inputs are produced from depletable,
non-renewable energy resources. (Gebremedhin and Schwab, 1998) The more these
resources are used the quicker they will run out so therefore rendering the
prices to rise. This will make the use of such resources uneconomical to
farmers, and unlike the natural nutrients produced by the crops themselves, the
external outputs may lose effectiveness with so much use over long periods of
time. This also affects the environmental sustainability with such chemicals
being set off into the soil and air, there are many protests – especially in
Britain – about how these are negatively affecting the populations health. Crop
rotation can see wider benefits if also used in conjunction with Conservation
Tillage, which is the planting, growing and harvesting of crops with limited
disturbance to the soil surface. (Garg, 2017) Less water is lost with this
technique and therefore less machinery and time is used up. It also helps to
decrease soil compaction due to less machinery being used on the land which in
turn increases yield. (Kimball, 2017) Increasing
farm profitability is also very important to the wider agricultural economy.
Farmers need to able to continuously adapt as the profitability of cropping
systems change as modern concepts come through.
Overall the well-known crop rotation system that has been
around for many years is still very much common practice in the agricultural
industry. Despite modernizations and alterations that have happened in
agriculture, this system has continued to be one of the most effective ways of
building up yield in other crops within the system and increasing the soil
quality and efficiency without the help of or significantly reducing the amount
of fertilizer. This has been a huge help to the environment and the success of
farms across the world, continuing to expand the agricultural economy. As the
farming community continues to modernise it is fairly certain that there will
be more use of crop rotation and systems similar to this in the future as the
natural resources being used will eventually be reduced to a minimum and the
industry will have to continuously adapt to the ever complicating changes.
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