An Interesting Idea

This past week one of our loyal followers, Karen, sent me a link to a New York Times Article by Mark Bittman.  I have read articles by Bittman before and have found them to be kind of a mixed bag, some good, some not so good (but then I suppose many of you could say the same thing about my articles – so I’m not complaining). Anyway, this article was good.  It discusses a study conducted in Iowa which demonstrated that growing different crops over time is healthier for the soil, reduces inputs like fertilizer and pesticides, and increases yields.  Basically they’re saying that growing more than just soybean one year and corn the next is a good thing to do.  For example, you could grow soy then corn then alfalfa.  And basically I agree with the article.  One of the things that it drives home really well is that there is a happy medium between dosing our soil with chemicals and going organic.  I do have one complaint though.  In the New York Times article Bittman seems to imply that yields of corn and soybean are higher when more crop rotations are used, and this isn’t exactly true.  Certainly the yields were higher on a per year basis, but since corn (for example) was only grown for one out of every few years instead of once every two year, over the course of a decade you’d still produce more corn on the conventional plot – of course you would have additional crops, oats and/or alfalfa, planted to make up for this, but still, this is a significant concern and not one that can be brushed off quickly.   There are certainly other concerns with this model if it ever became large.  Would we be producing too much alfalfa?  This study utilized cow manure as a fertilizer – how many cows per acre would you need?  Still, I think this is a neat study and one which we should pay attention to as it’s stuff like this, rather than what we now call organic, which has real potential to decrease our pesticide and fertilizer use.

8 thoughts on “An Interesting Idea”

  1. ” … you could grow soy then corn then alfalfa.”

    A few miles south of Iowa, 75 years ago, farmers who could not read were doing this rotation.

  2. I’m doing an extension publication on the science behind companion planting, and much of the literature I’ve gathered is on crop rotation like this or intercropping (also called polyculture). These studies have been going on for several decades. What makes this one different, Jeff?

  3. Rats. I was going to write a post on this article. Shouldn’t have dallied. I thought it was a thoughtful article and good study.

  4. Well, if it takes that long for the NYT to find out about the benefits of intercropping and crop rotation, I guess we can look forward to their future reporting on new inventions like soaker hoses and string trimmers!
    In all seriousness, it is good that these kind of studies finally get a public stage. Too bad it just doesn’t happen more often.

  5. I wonder if the NYT got ar
    ound to it because it still manages to bash the usual suspects: USDA & Monsanto & chemical companies. And Bittman claims that the USDA (monolith) refused to respond to his queries, then proceeded to quote an author of the study who “works for the USDA”. Is it really possible that farmers don’t know about these options? Makes one wish that among all the editors and reporters at the NYT there was at least one who specialized in ag issues. Imagine if that was considered as important as entertainment!

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