By Laura Lengnick, founder of Cultivating Resilience, LLC
Some of America’s forward-thinking farmers and ranchers are innovating more flexible crop rotations that allow them to fine-tune crop choices in response to increasing weather variability. This kind of crop rotation strategy is called “dynamic cropping.” Dynamic cropping is an ecologically-based management strategy that optimizes production through the use of flexible crop sequencing. In other words, unlike fixed crop rotations whose crop sequences do not vary over the length of the rotation, dynamic cropping allows the producer to ask what to grow, as well as when and how to grow it, every time a crop is planted. The answers to these questions depend both on farm’s goals and other factors, both challenging and beneficial, such as current weather and soil conditions, short-term and seasonal weather forecasts, potential production costs, specific pest and disease challenges, the crop needs of other farm enterprises, and changing market conditions.
Dynamic cropping is more knowledge-intensive than traditional cropping methods, requiring greater familiarity with a broader range of crops than is typically necessary for most farmers. But those who have taken the plunge say that the practice increases crop yields, reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides, increases nutrient and precipitation use efficiency, and allows them to take full advantage of changing environmental and market conditions that might inhibit the performance of less flexible management strategies. The limited research available on dynamic cropping suggests the practice offers significant benefits to agricultural producers amid the increasing uncertainties associated with climate change.
Any producer managing annual crops can take advantage of the climate resilience benefits of dynamic cropping. In future weeks, read about how diversified vegetable and grain grower Nash Huber, grain producer Russ Zenner, grain and livestock producer Gabe Brown, and dairyman Tom Trantham have found success using dynamic cropping systems on their farms and ranches.
The following resources provide more information about dynamic cropping systems:
- Dynamic Crop Calculator for Northern Great Plains – a decision tool that can help producers select crop species best adapted to current conditions
- The Science of Soil Health: Dynamic Cropping Systems – a short video introducing dynamic crop rotation from USDA-NRCS
Have you implemented dynamic cropping systems? What did you find the costs and benefits were? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!
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