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Crop establishment systems and rotation in combination

Crop establishment systems and rotation in combination

Dermot Forristal, Teagasc, CELUP Oak Park

Crop establishment systems and crop rotation both have a role to play in the development of sustainable crop production.  Ireland’s crop yield potential is supported by our; climate, soils, crop management and past rotations which included grass. But for the last 40 years, most of our cropping has not included grass in rotations and much of it has been in monoculture.  Rotations can make crop production more resilient, by breaking disease pest and weed cycles and improving crop nutrition (legumes).  Reduced cultivation systems can be faster and less expensive than plough-based systems and may have environmental benefits, but grass weeds and wet soil conditions present challenges.  Combining rotations with reduced cultivation systems should bring benefits, but this needs to be quantified.  Oak Park research has quantified, through a six year study, the impact of transitioning from monoculture to a rotation across four different cultivation systems: plough, shallow plough, min-till and strip-till.  Break crops boosted yield in the subsequent cereal by 19% on average, with oats bringing the same benefit as oilseed rape.  Of the four cultivation tested, there was no significant yield difference between ploughing and min-till in 5 of 6 years tested under the system studied. However, strip till performed less well  on a number of years  though this was linked with crop type with strip till leading to reduced yields in wheat and barley but not necessarily with oats.