Innovative Crop Rotation Increases Soil Health

Published online: Nov 12, 2018 Articles
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Source: News Source 8 WAGM

While potatoes are a common crop in Aroostook County, Maine, they aren't typically grown in the same soil each year.

A new and innovative crop rotation has proven to increase soil health.

When it comes to growing, healthy soils can go a long way towards producing a crop with a higher yield. That's why healthy soil is the primary goal of Angela Wotton, district manager of the Southern Aroostook Soil & Water Conservation District. She hopes to get there by altering crop rotations.

"Most farmers do a one-on-one, which means one year potato, and one year small grain," says Wotton. "We've decided to try and push that instead of a small grain, to invest in your soil and do a multi-species mix to try to build up your soil to help the incoming potato crop."

Wotton and her district tried the multi-species mix first with Whited Farms in Bridgewater, Maine, through a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). As a testament to its success, even after the grant funds ran out, the farm has continued with the multi-species mix, which has 10 different species.

"The idea," says Wotton, "is to sort of mimic nature, and to have a diversity of plant species that sort of help each other create a lot of biomass to build up the soil and make the soil more healthy so you have a better cash crop following that with a good yield and better quality."

Wotton says the main selling point of the multi-species mix in a rotation year is that it is flexible for each farmer.

"The trick is to start out small, figure out what it is you want the crop to do for you," she says. "If you're having some disease or pest problems, maybe there's something that you can do to target it towards that or if it's just a soil health building then there's definitely mixes out there that do that."

Wotton has seen more adoption of the multi-species mix at least in part due to farms having succees and sharing it with others.

"In Southern Aroostook, a lot of farmers have come on to this," Wotton says. "And across the nation, mostly in the Midwest, a lot of farmers have taken it on."

Wotton says she would love to see more Aroostook County farms try this method. She says it helps build up the soil, which means a healthier, better quality crop for both farmers and consumers.