Where Do I Put My Crops

This video outlines the basic steps you can take to plan a vegetable crop rotation from the start.
Where Do I Put My Crops - Videos

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This video outlines the basic steps you can take to plan a vegetable crop rotation from the start.

Instructors

Commercial Horticulture Vegetable and Small Fruit Greenhouse Ornamentals Grapes FSMA and GAPs

More by Lee Stivers 

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- [Voiceover] Where do I put my crops?

Planning a vegetable crop rotation from the start.

Maybe you are new to growing vegetable crops, or maybe you've purchased or leased a new farm to expand your current production.

In any case, the critical question you are facing is, where do I put my crops?

This video outlines the basic steps you can take to plan a vegetable crop rotation from the start.

Crop rotation is one of the most fundamental, best management practices we know of in crop farming.

Planting the same vegetable crops in the same place year after year reduces soil quality by allowing diseases and other pests an opportunity to build up.

It can lower soil organic matter content and quality, and can leave soil nutrients unbalanced.

So having a good crop rotation is key to farm sustainability.

But a good crop rotation, one worked out over several years, doesn't happen on its own, and it certainly doesn't happen on the fly, during the busy spring planting season.

A good crop rotation starts with a good plan.

Planning takes time, and winter is a good time to sit down, do some research, consider some questions, and create your crop rotation plan.

Planning may be a part of farming that many growers avoid, but having a good plan laid out on easy to read maps can make your planting season go much smoother, as well as give you the benefits of a sound crop rotation on your farm.

The first step in planning a crop rotation is to decide what your goals are.

There are lots of different reasons to rotate crops on a vegetable farm.

These include building or conserving soil organic matter, adding nitrogen with nitrogen fixing vegetables or cover crops, managing diseases, insects and weeds, increasing profits and cash flow, having a diverse product line, managing production and financial risks, minimizing off-farm inputs, reducing labor, and practicing good land stewardship.

What are your specific goals in planning your crop rotation?

Describe what you're trying to achieve with crop rotation on your farm.

List all of your goals, and then ask yourself, which of these goals are the most important for my farm?

Next, make a list of all the crops you're planning to grow, including cover crops, and how much of each crop you will need based on your market.

You will also want to note the planting and harvest times of each crop.

There are lots of good sources of information you can use when you're putting together this list.

Certainly you should refer to the current, Mid-Atlantic Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations publication, available from Penn State Extension.

Catalogs from commercial vegetable seed companies are also often a wealth of information on specific vegetable cultivars.

Creating your lists with pen and paper is fine at this stage, but you can also move this to a spreadsheet if you want to, to help with later steps of sorting, adding and grouping.

By now you probably have a pretty long list of crops you are planning to grow, that's why it's useful to group crops into rotational groups.

You can create rotational groups in ways that make sense for your particular farming situation.

A common way to group crops is by family, so you can put all of your cucurbits , or vine crops, into one rotational group, like melons, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers.

And then all the solanaceous crops, including tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, in another rotational group.

Another common way to group is by planting arrangement, so one group might be those crops that are grown in multiple rows on raised beds, like leafy greens, and another group might be narrow single rows, like bean and corns, while a third group would be wide row spaced crops like winter squash and pumpkins.

Groupings can be based on different cultivation or irrigation practices, or whether the harvested portion of the crop is roots, fruits or leaves.

Take some time to think about how to make this step work for your farm.

If you don't already have a map of your farm, it's time to make one.

It's important that this map is drawn to scale, it helps to download a real map of your farm, with soil types from a web soil survey.

Then you can trace the farm boundaries and soil type boundaries onto your farm map.

The USDA NRCS has an interactive website where you can find your farm or fields, download maps and even measure field sizes.

Your county conservation district may also be able to help you with this step.

Once you have your farm map, divide up your farm into equal size rotational units, or as close to even as you can practically make them.

The size of the units will depend on the size of your farm, but it typically matches the smallest area planted to a single crop or rotational group.

Number or label each rotational unit so you can keep track of each one over a number of years.

Now, going back to your crop list, figure out how much land, or how many rotational units, you need for each grouping of crops.

For example, you may devote several units to a certain crop, like pumpkins or sweet corn, and only one unit to other crops, like lettuce.

At this point, you may also want to identify conditions in your fields that may affect which crops are grown where on your farm.

Few farms have uniform conditions in each part of the farm, so, for instance, some fields may stay wetter in the spring, while others dry out quickly, making them better choices for early planting.

Some fields may have problems with diseases or pests that need to be avoided.

Note these conditions on your farm map.

Next, arm yourself with multiple copies of your farm map.

Using these copies, and maybe some colored pens, sketch out and compare possible rotations.

You definitely want to create a plan for the upcoming season, but you can also map out at least a tentative rotation for the next two to three years.

While you are mapping options, keep in mind your goals for rotating crops.

Also, consider factors such as the timing of field operations and equipment required for different rotational units, where to include cover crops, the disease history and how long the rotation must be between crops or groups to manage diseases, and rotation in time and space of susceptible crops to keep insect pests from returning to crops the next year or moving from crop to crop in the future.

Now that you have crop rotation drawn out on your maps, you can approach the growing season with a solid plan of where to put your crops.

In the process, you've also created a list of crops and their planting areas that will be helpful when you order seeds, fertilizers and other inputs.

You've also created a communication tool that will come in hand when directing workers during the growing season.

But remember, a plan is just a plan, so as you plant, you may end up making modifications along the way.

Just make sure to update your maps as you go along.

Crop rotation maps are important farm records, you should keep copies of your rotation maps for at least several years, that way, when you sit down in the winter to plan your next season, you won't have to rely on your memory for where you put your crops in the past.

Many crop planning tools exist to help you plan your crop rotations and keep detailed crop records.

Some can be found in books and other publications, and others can be found online as spreadsheets, software packages or even apps that run on mobile devices.

Online tools can be particularly powerful in the amount of detailed information they hold, and in their functionality in sorting, creating lists and linking crop production records with financial and market information.

No doubt, the tools you use will evolve over time, just as your farm evolves.

But don't let the online tools intimidate you, if you are just getting started as a vegetable farmer, it's okay to begin with just a pen and some paper.

The important thing is to start planning your crop rotation that works for you right from the start.

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