CRP vs. Crop Rotation – What’s Best for My Land?

Growing the same crops in the same spot year after year can take a toll on soil, depleting it of certain nutrients and leaving it unbalanced. As the soil’s health decreases, water runoff and erosion increases, damaging the soil further. Ultimately, this results in weaker crop yields. 

Farmers have long employed techniques to combat this. 

One of the more aggressive methods of keeping soil balanced and healthy is crop rotation. Rather than continuously growing the same crops on the same land, crop rotation replaces one crop with another after a certain period of time. The exact sequence for rotation can vary. While some farmers use long term, cyclical rotations, many rely on shorter sequences based on cash flow, market value, and the soil’s biology. 

Crop rotation is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around since about 6000 BC. Back then, it wasn’t about preserving soil, however. They were simply growing what they needed during different seasons, resulting in a natural rotation. 

It’s only been with the rise of modern farming that we’ve seen an increased need to actively improve and maintain soil health. The question is… 

Does Crop Rotation Work? 

Done correctly, crop rotation can have very positive effects on soil quality and crop yields. Different types of crop interact with soil in unique ways. The nutrients they consume aren’t always the same. By switching between the right crops, you can allow  deficient nutrients to replenish while previously untapped nutrients are absorbed. 

The rotation process also increases organic matter in the soil, as each crop leaves behind different microorganisms. Soil is kept balanced and healthy, leading to better harvests. Erosion and runoff are decreased as well. 

Of course, that’s if everything goes according to plan. 

The Shortcomings of Crop Rotation 

Rotating your crops can be complicated and risky. The crop you transition to may fail to pay as well as the previous crop. The new crop could also fail to properly establish, leaving you with nothing to harvest.  

In order to maximize crop rotation and ensure a healthy transition, an advanced understanding of soil and crop biology is needed. This knowledge needs to be combined with current market trends and crop values in order to create a viable rotation strategy. Otherwise, crop rotation can lead to serious losses for farmers. 

Crop rotation also involves additional work and more equipment. Different crops often require special tools. Many farmers simply don’t have the time or resources to devote to it.  

Restoring Soil Health Through Conservation Reserve Program  

Crop rotation isn’t the only way to actively improve soil health. Enrolling land in the Conservation Reserve Program serves a number of similar functions as crop rotation. It restores soil health, reduces runoff, and protects against erosion. However, CRP takes things a step further. Rather than simply replacing one crop with another, CRP takes underperforming or marginal land out of active production and establishes native vegetation over a period of 10-15 years. 

Establishing native vegetation through CRP removes the strain that tilling and growing crops places on soil. It also provides better coverage, protecting against wind, rain, and the sun. Soil is allowed to heal while runoff is dramatically reduced. 

This not only protects precious topsoil, but it keeps local water supplies clean. 

CRP also provides habitat for local wildlife (and in many instances, pollinators as well). All of this not only benefits the land enrolled in CRP, but the surrounding environment as well. 

In exchange for enrolling in CRP, contract holders receive rental payments based on soil type. Additionally, they receive cost-share reimbursement to cover a percentage of CRP seed purchase and establishment expenses. This makes CRP a highly affordable and ultimately profitable alternative to crop rotation. 

Like crop rotation, CRP does require special equipment and knowledge to ensure proper establishment. However, it doesn’t have to be any extra work for you. 

At FDCE, we provide turn-key services for CRP establishment. In other words, we handle the entire process for you from selecting and buying CRP seed mixes to planting and herbicide application. We even take care of the paperwork and report submissions to FSA so you can receive your maximum cost-share reimbursement as soon as possible. 

Because of the nature of CRP, our services practically pay for themselves. If you’re looking to enjoy the advantages of CRP, contact FDCE today!