Crop Rotation

Organic Week 2017: Why Crop Rotation Is Important

It’s Organic Week once again! This year, we decided to go a little more in-depth about organic food. More often than not, I get comments from people who don’t understand the difference between organic and conventional food. I mean, besides the price, of course. Today, I want to talk about one organic standard in particular: crop rotation.

A Little Backstory

Think of your childhood impression of a farm. It probably looked like something Fisher Price dreamed up: a little red barn with a horse, a cow, a chicken, a sheep, and vegetables of all kinds growing in the fields. While that may be a little on the idyllic side, it’s not too far off from how farming used to be. Farmers would grow different crops in different seasons, and in different years.

Nowadays, most commercial farms are dedicated to one thing, and one thing only. They grow potatoes OR corn OR soybeans, and because they have contracts with McDonalds or Kellogg’s or whoever to provide that specific crop, they grow the same crop year after year.

Potato

Why Is This A Problem?

What do you know about potatoes? Specifically, their mineral content. Potatoes are high in potassium, copper, manganese, and phosphorus. And where do all these minerals come from? You guessed it: the soil.

So, if a farmer is growing potatoes year after year, those same nutrients are being depleted from the soil every year. The standard N-P-K fertilizer takes care of the phosphorus and potassium, but what about the other nutrients?

Look at what happened in our neck of the woods. The area near the Great Lakes is rather unfortunately known as “The Goiter Belt“. Our area is VERY low in iodine, which means that crops grown here that would ordinarily have a high iodine content, well, they didn’t. This lack of iodine in our food resulted in widespread thyroid issues (hence the “goiter” part).

So, you eat a potato, expecting it to have the nutrient profile of, well, a potato. But every year, as the farmer grows the same crop in the same soil, we get less and less of the same nutrients in our potato. In addition, planting the same crop over and over increases the population of plant-specific insects. Then, you need to spray a lot more insecticide to keep your plants bug-free.

How Crop Rotation Works

To solve this problem, organic farmers must rotate their crops. This involves a few different practicies:

  1. Changing crop locations – Want to plant potatoes every year? Great! Just don’t plant them in the same plot. Moving your potatoes to another part of your farm prevents them from leeching the same nutrients from the same soil over and over again.
  2. Plant complementary crops – Corn sucks up a lot of nitrogen from the soil. Legumes ADD nitrogen to the soil. If you alternate a season of corn with a season of beans, your soil will stay in better balance.  
  3. Cover crops – Planting cover crops, like buckwheat or clover, helps to reduce the insect population, while helping to improve the soil.

Using this method of farming helps give us more nutrient-dense food, and helps keep our soil usable for years to come. And the best part – you can employ these methods in your home garden, to give your harvest a little boost!

Do you rotate your veggies from year to year? What’s your favourite way to do it?

 

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