Consider a society that doesn't have modern fertilizer and practices crop rotation. This society is concerned with the short-term issues with crop rotation and is considering a modified method they call "split-lot" farming. This entails dividing a designated plot based on the crops you have available, planting one crop in each division, and rotating the crops between divisions if necessary.

The impression I had of crop rotation was that you needed to switch crops (even a mix of crops) after every harvest, but I didn't know if that was really necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ What is the difference between this and standard crop rotation? $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Feb 14 '18 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelRichardson Well I'm kinda asking if there is a difference and what it would be if it existed. The impression I had of crop rotation was that you needed to switch crops (even a mix of crops) after every harvest, but I didn't know if that was really necessary. $\endgroup$ – Geoffrey Carlton Feb 14 '18 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ What farming plan? The question does not describe a plan, it describes the structure of a plan. What exact crops, in what climate, over what kind of soil... What does "if necessary" even mean? Not to mention that there is no real difference between "one split lot" and "several lots". Are you a politician by any chance? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 14 '18 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ crop rotation of often about nutrients, some crops leech them other add them to the soil, by rotating you keep from destroying your soil. this answer will vary wildly depending on the plants in question. If you just rotate corn and wheat for instance your not really helping. you can plant different crops together as well if they grow in different patterns, tall corn stalks surrounded by ground hugging gourds for instance. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 15 '18 at 2:36

I'm going to say no, this is not a viable method of crop rotation. I'm not going to rehearse @Willk's answer as it is good, but what I will point out is that there are a number of other factors;

Crop Timing II
It's not just that different crops will only grow at different times of the year, but certain crops also grow at different rates. Corn for instance will take (on average) around 80 days to grow, but potatoes will take around 120. This is assuming good soil with ideal conditions for each crop; your lack of fertilisers will alter that making the possible growth figure even more variable between crops.

Leaving a field fallow for 40 days may not be a bad idea, but it's still inefficient. You may want to find a crop that grows quickly in the interim that can plug this gap, but the timing of field based rotation is still more complicated than rotating through a single crop across all the available land.

Fruits & Nuts
These are 'asset' based crops; you have an asset (a vine or tree) that produces yields for several years in a row; that effectively blocks your rotation strategy or at least sections off part of the land so that its quarantined from conventional crop rotation. So long as you're fine with an orchard being exempt from rotation, no problem. That said, grape vines (for instance) are even less ephemeral than trees, so at least you'll always have wine.

A special case worth mentioning here is Sugar Cane. This is really a grass, but it has a 7 year cycle for the plant as it produces yields. Again, that effectively quarantines the land, although the simple solution here is to give up sugar, if you're prepared to do so. In some environments, it's a nice cash crop.

Because you don't have fertiliser, you're definitely going to want to plant beans or peas regularly in your rotation. Legumes are important because they're nitrogen fixing plants (they actually put nitrogen in the soil, rather than extract it). Most modern fertilisers are called NPK fertilisers (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) so the added nitrogen will be useful to conventional rotation without fertilisers. Your best use of this would be to harvest the beans, then plough the plants into the soil to decay and release even more nutrients.

What this last point highlights is that rotation is only useful if you know what each crop adds to (and more importantly extracts from) the soil. This method of farming is useful on small scales because it means that you have a wider variety of crops maturing at the same time, but it's certainly less efficient and introduces other considerations like orcharding and viticulture that are going to break up the possibility of rotation.

In that sense, my no above is qualified by the idea that you're trying to produce on a large scale. If you're not, then it's a different story but in that case I'd start doing some research on Permaculture. This is an even smaller scale implementation of what you're describing in your post and may be a good place to start in terms of understanding the chemistry and biology involved in crop rotation and simultaneous planting strategies. On a small scale permaculture would give you more sustainability AND more variety in terms of sustaing (say) a family with limited land resources.


It might be helpful if you laid out your reasons for your rotation scheme and the world it is based in. I am thinking about your scheme as carried out in the American Midwest, now.

The downside is that you have several types of crop going at once. It is not a huge downside. The upside is...

Harvest downside: if you plant your whole field with corn, come harvest you can use the same harvest procedure for the entirety of your fields and so there is some economy of labor there. Then if you plant with alfalfa you turn the whole field into hay or till it all in. If you have half the field alfalfa and then have to change up your procedure for the corn half of the field that could be a nuisance.

Timing downside. Some crops will only grow at a certain time of year and some crops give you more flexibility. If you can get a good price for corn, it makes sense to grow as much corn as you can when you can, then rotate your land into a winter cover crop once the corn is harvested. It makes less sense to use your land that could be growing corn for some less lucrative crop unless you have some other reason to diversify.

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    $\begingroup$ There's also a measure of security that comes with diversification, especially in a non-modern agribusiness context. E.g. if you have all your land planted in corn then adverse weather or a blight which attacks corn can wipe out your entire crop. Conversely, if everyone has bumper crops of corn that year, the selling price drops and might not cover your cost. But with multiple crops, there's more chance that one will succeed. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 14 '18 at 20:05

If your farmers aren't interested in or capable of easily trading with each other it makes sense for each farm to produce every crop every year. If you want to eat corn you grow corn, if you want to use cotton you grow cotton.

If the tools used aren't very differentiated or ware out fast the cost to working different crops is minimal. Weeding wheat and weeding flax aren't really different jobs, if a tool breaks after about an acre it doesn't matter whether you need a different tool or the same tool to start work on the next acre.

If your labor source is not tied to any particular land there is a cost to having fields split into small units, in that they have to travel between fields to keep working on what ever crop. Work a half acre walk a mile work a half acre would be an inefficient work day.

If expensive tools are shared it makes sense to have fewer people need them each year. Joe uses the potato harvester this year, and trades it to Jim for a soy harvester next year.


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