Researchers from the multi-state, multi-disciplinary sod rotation team have found, after 6 years of research, that a sod/livestock-based peanut/cotton rotation has both positive economical and environmental effects and recommend its use for row crop farmers in the Southeastern U.S.

What began as a small project has since developed into a large project, involving over 30 scientists from several disciplines, including soil science, pathology, nematology, weed science, agronomy and economics.

While the program started as a tri-state program, which included Florida, Georgia and Alabama, it has since evolved to include the USDA, other universities, the Rodale Institute and has also expanded internationally.

The basic principle of the rotation is to grow two years of bahiagrass, followed by one year of peanuts, then a year of cotton. Cattle can then be incorporated into the cropping system on the second year of bahiagrass, or the grass can be harvested for hay. This system is designed to replace the traditional — one year of peanuts followed by two years of cotton — rotation.

According to Tawainga Katsvairo, the UF/IFAS lead scientist of the multi-disciplinary team based at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, there are numerous economic and environmental advantages obtained from this new cropping system.

“We have observed most benefits in soil quality,” reports Katsvairo, a crop and soil scientist. “Not only do the roots of the subsequent crops reach deeper depths after bahiagrass, but the roots also develop a much larger rooting systems which can be up to 50 percent greater after the sod compared to the conventional cropping system.

“The importance of a healthy soil cannot be underestimated. Soils are the starting point and healthy soils facilitate vigorous plant growth which enables crops to out-compete plant diseases, nematodes and weeds.”

Another UF/IFAS team member, Jim Marois, explained that the sod rotation has drastically reduced many peanut diseases, including tomato spotted wilt virus, Cercospora leaf spot severity and lower white mold.

The UF/IFAS nematologist on the program, Jimmy Rich, emphasized the importance of perennial grasses in the control of nematodes. In addition, both bahiagrass and coastal Bermuda grass can reduce southern blight caused by the fungus Sclerotium rolfsii in both peanut and cotton, the most damaging peanut pathogen in the Southeast.

From an economic standpoint, peanut and cotton production alone resulted in marginal profits. However, incorporating cattle into the sod-based peanut/cotton cropping system greatly increases the overall economics of the farm and achieve environmental benefits. Bahiagrass increases crop yields and cattle also provide additional revenue.

In addition to its economic benefits, sod rotation is also beneficial to land conservation and the environment. University of Auburn professor, Dallas Hartzog, one of the agronomist on the sod rotation team, explained that sod based cropping systems can help preserve biodiversity, by providing habitat for nesting birds, small mammals, deer, turkey and rabbits, which all feed on green material.

More detailed information about the study results and an interactive business model that evaluates the economic feasibility of a four year livestock/peanut/cotton/sod rotation are located at http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/sodrotation.htm.