The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Mark Watson
Panhandle No till Educator 

No Till Notes: 'Irrigation Rotation'


During the Panhandle No-till Partnership’s field days, practices on irrigated acres were discussed. The farms we visited have been using the standard irrigated no-till crop rotation of winter wheat, corn, dry edible beans and back to winter wheat.

Some of the producers are now including field peas as part of their crop rotation. On our farm, we have moved to a winter wheat (followed by a forage crop), dry edible bean, corn, field pea crop rotation.

We feel this rotation will be a better agronomical rotation for the crops we grow. We think the winter wheat yields will improve by planting the wheat following field peas rather than edible beans.

We will be able to plant the wheat crop in a timelier manner for higher yielding winter wheat. Often, following edible beans, we have been late getting the winter wheat planted.

Following the winter wheat harvest, we plan to plant a forage crop for livestock grazing. Planting the forage crop will improve the health of the soil on our irrigated acres by keeping a living root growing in our soil following the wheat harvest. We will produce more biomass, add more plant diversity into our crop rotation, and build soil organic matter on these acres with the forage crop production. The planting of forages will also allow us to better manage the residues in the field by grazing the forage

crop with livestock. We will then plant edible beans into the forage residues the following spring.

We will then plant our corn crop into the edible bean residues the following year. We think the corn will get off to a better start following the edible beans as opposed to corn following winter wheat. There will be less residue to contend with planting the corn crop and may lead to higher yielding corn.

After the corn harvest, we’ll graze the corn stalks with livestock. Grazing the stalks with cattle will allow us to manage the amount of corn residues in the field. We will then plant the field peas the following spring.

When we look at the big picture, this irrigated crop rotation should have higher winter wheat and corn yields. This rotation also gives us the opportunity to produce a forage crop for grazing and improving soil health. Another big advantage to this crop rotation is we feel we will lower our groundwater pumping with the addition of the field peas because the irrigation requirement is low.

With the abnormal rainfall we have received this year everyone’s groundwater pumping has been reduced. According to my rainfall records, we have received more than 18 inches of precipitation on our farm to date.

We are looking to future groundwater use by attempting to lower our groundwater pumping by modifying our irrigated crop rotation and adding another low water use crop to our rotation by including field peas as part of our irrigated crop rotation.


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