Farmers have known for ages that crop rotation provides benefits beyond a yield bump. Advantages include improved pest control, opportunity to switch herbicides and other crop protection materials and the potential to tap different commodity markets to spread financial risks.

Now, research has shown that a comprehensive rotation program, coupled with reduced or no-till systems, provides far-reaching benefits that go beyond the farm gate.

Jim Marois, University of Florida, says a sod-based rotation and no-till production system that includes perennial grasses offers significant benefits to farmers and the environment.

“It pays to get grass and animals back to where farmers grow crops,” Marois said during the No-till Oklahoma Conference held recently in Norman.

He said environmental conditions in the Southeast may be significantly different from those in Oklahoma and other Southwest areas. Some of the plants may not be as adaptable to the region and rainfall differences can be considerable. But the principles will apply.

“We see a lot of interest in water in the Southeast,” Marois said. Developing production systems that utilize water efficiently is becoming a priority. Building soil organic matter is a key, he said.

“Two-thirds of the biomass of perennial grasses is below ground,” he said. “One-third of annual grass biomass is below ground.”

He said perennial grasses push roots deep into the soil and build organic matter. “Going from 1 percent organic matter to 2 percent can mean a lot to a farmer,” said Marois. “After 10,000 years of agriculture extracting from the soil, we are now able to enrich it.”

He said integrating perennial grass into a rotation system can increase crop root growth by 50 percent. He said a sod-based rotation increases water penetration, plant water use potential and nutrient cycling.