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Rotating Your Crops Pays Off

It is well documented that proper crop rotation is best practice for the sustainability and longevity of your farm. Rotating crops in a 3- to 4-year cycle helps lower disease and insect pressure, prolongs herbicide weed resistance when altering groups and adding tank mixes, and helps in tillage and fertility. There are plenty of benefits. So why do farmers deviate from their rotation?

Sometimes the reason to deviate or “shorten” rotation has to do with land rental agreements or equipment, but more often than not it is due to, “I have to grow what makes me the most money.”

Growing crops that are most profitable makes sense. The challenge is being able to predict which crops will net the highest profit. Farmers make decisions in the fall and winter for spring planting. To help with these cropping decisions, some growers will look at the numbers of the most recent crop year. This is an effective tool; however, there is risk in looking in the rearview mirror to predict what will happen in the future.

To help illustrate, a western Manitoba grower shares, “After reviewing my 2019 numbers, canola was the most profitable crop on my farm, then wheat and soybeans penciled out the lowest return. So, I decided to increase my canola and wheat acres and lower my soybean acres. Well, in 2020, it was hot in summer, and we got rain in August. Then the futures markets took off. Now my math has soybeans as my highest profit per acre, followed by canola and wheat. In hindsight, I wish I would have stuck to my rotation and grew more soybeans.”

Another approach in determining what crop to grow is to stick to your rotation. Rotation helps with growing the most profitable crops as it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict what the weather will be for the growing season or what the grain prices will be over the next 12-18 months.

“We stick to our rotations for 90 percent of our land. On 10 percent, we’ll try for what we think will make us the most money, but that doesn’t always pan out. I’m glad we stuck to our rotation as last year soybeans had the lowest return, but this year our Sperling did over 50 bushels per acre and our price is over $12/bu. Who would have guessed that soybeans would turn out to be our most profitable crop in 2020,” eastern Manitoba farmer.

The other profitability factor in rotation is acknowledging that certain crops create yield bumps for other crops. Soybeans and field peas provide the most yield benefit to other crops (see chart courtesy of Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation).

Determining what crops to grow is not an easy decision. To alleviate some of the pressure, rotation is the safe bet. Rotation is best practice for your farm in the long term and it is a great natural hedge against weather and commodity prices that can pay off. Let’s balance rotation and increase your chances of 2021 paying off!