Today’s ag report: Crop rotation and soil management

How farmers keep their soil healthy
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 5:40 AM CDT
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WALCOTT, Iowa (KWQC) - Iowa ranks number one in corn and soybean production. Mike Paustian of Paustian Enterprises grows both. In order to maintain their land, farmers utilize crop rotation. If in a season a farmer puts soybeans on one half of their land and corn on the other half, the next year they may switch those acres.

“We try to rotate soybeans all around to all of our fields every third year or so probably,” Mike Paustian explains.

“Rotating helps break disease cycles because you have certain pests that only like to eat soybeans or only like to eat corn and so switching up the crop in there helps breaks that cycle,” Paustian says.

Although that doesn’t always work.

“Over the years we’ve actually started to find out we’re selecting for certain bugs that will like actually hibernate for an entire crop season and then come back in the second year,” Paustian says.

“That’s one of the kind of interesting things that’s happened that the insects kind of adapt to what we’re doing as farmers. So you’re kind of trying to stay one step ahead of them to some degree,” Paustian says.

Paustian says they try to practice integrated pest management.

“We know when to expect to see certain kinds of pests and so we’ll go out into the fields and we’ll look to see if they’re there, because we certainly don’t want to use the money to spray a pesticide or something like that if there’s nothing there to be worried about or if the amount of insects that are out there are not enough to cause any serious economic damage, then we’re probably not going to do anything,” Paustian explains.

Other than pests, farmers have to make sure their soil is healthy.

A quality of good soil is that it’s resilient, meaning that it can recover quickly from unfavorable conditions. One way to build resiliency into the soil is by practicing no till.

Paustian also builds resiliency into the soil through cover crops. This helps keep more organic matter in the soil.

“It’s more like a sponge, you can soak that rain up and still be available to the plant even when we’re going through a bit of a dry spell,” Paustian says about the cover crops.

“We just try to make sure our soil stays in really good shape because hopefully if we take care of it, then hopefully it’ll take care of us” Paustian says.

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