Each day consumers have questions about how their food is grown and raised – and who better to answer those questions than a farmer or rancher?  Each week we’re highlighting an Anderson Live viewer question from our Facebook along with a farmer/rancher answer. Today, we are exploring “Do farmers rotate their crops? What is the benefit of this practice?”  

Here’s what our farmer/rancher expert says:

Nathan Kringle - Crop rotation is the best way to control weeds, insects and diseases. The insects and diseases that broadleaf plants, such as soybeans, are most susceptible to are not as likely to damage grasses, such as corn or wheat. We have several fields that, due to erosion susceptibility and difficulty in cropping, we would prefer to keep in alfalfa (a plant similar to clover that produces a very high quality hay) permanently. However, alfalfa naturally releases growth inhibitors to keep new alfalfa plants from growing too close to an older one. For that reason, every 4-5 years, we rotate corn into those fields for a year or two to give those compounds time to break down (they don't affect any plants other than alfalfa). In addition, the corn is able to utilize the nitrogen that the alfalfa fixes into the soil, allowing us to get high yields without needing to use much, if any, chemical fertilizer. Rotating corn and hay also lowers the populations of some of the root diseases that attack perennial crops such as alfalfa.

Jake Stoltzfus - We rotate corn for silage, alfalfa/hay and pasture for our grass-based dairy farm. We plant cereal rye after corn silage as a winter cover crop.  It scavenges for the nutrients the last crop did not use, and holds soil from eroding through the winter thaw and spring.  The deep penetrating roots also loosen the soil naturally. We also use oats and turnips for late fall forage, and rent our neighbor's wheat ground for summer annual forages, including sorghum sudangrass or oats and peas.  With legumes fixating nitrogen in our hay and pasture, corn taking advantage of residual Nitrogen after alfalfa and grazing, or strategically applying manure on all our land - we apply very little commercial fertilizer.

Stay tuned for more answers on how food gets from a farm or ranch to your plate. To be part of the conversation, visit: http://www.facebook.com/USFarmersandRanchers