Three or four year crop rotation vs corn/soybean rotation
“Substantial improvements in the environmental sustainability of agriculture are achievable now, without sacrificing food production or farmer livelihoods. When agrichemical inputs are completely eliminated, yield gaps may exist between conventional and alternative systems. However, such yield gaps may be overcome through the strategic application of very low inputs of agrichemicals in the context of more diverse cropping systems. Although maize is grown less frequently in the 3-year and 4-year rotations than in the 2-year rotation, this will not compromise the ability of such systems to contribute to the global food supply, given the relatively low contribution of maize and soybean production to direct human consumption and the ability of livestock to consume small grains and forages.”
Moving to a rotation system such as used in this study would require a willingness and managerial ability by the farm operator to reintegrate small-scale livestock production into a moderate-sized cropping system—something that was common place 5 decades ago but rare today.
The environmental advantages are compelling. The economics appear encouraging. The true test will be when the system moves from university plots to full-time farms, including those that are no longer “livestock-ready” for example. What size of livestock and crop operation would be needed to provide an adequate level of family income for a full-time farm operation? Or would a rotation system of livestock and crop farming, such as the one in this study, be one of several specialty farming segments that are currently thriving but in limited numbers?
Source: Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee