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Conservation Choices: Crop Rotation

Crop Rotation

Crop RotationWhat it is

A conservation crop rotation is growing different crops on the same piece of land year after year in a planned, recurring sequence. This may include alternating row crop production with a high residue producing crop, such as corn, to a low residue producing crop like soybeans.

It also may involve a rotation to a small grain or a grass legume meadow, and may include crops planted for cover or nutrient enhancements.

How it helps

  • On sloping lands, crop rotations can help reduce soil erosion.
  • Rotations with alfalfa and other legumes reduce fertilizer needs because these plants replace some of the nitrogen removed by corn and other grain crops.
  • Pesticide costs may be reduced by naturally breaking the cycles of weeds, insects and diseases.
  • Rotations help improve soil health by adding diverse biological activity.
  • Grass and legumes in a rotation protect water quality by preventing excess nutrients or chemicals from entering water supplies.

Planning ahead

  • Do you have a use for other crops?

Tech Notes

  • Crops must be suited to your soils.
  • Design crop rotations to meet the residue needs of your crop residue management plan. High residue crops include: corn (grain), sorghum (grain), small grains, forages and winter cover crops.
  • Small grains and corn (grain) can be used to replace any low residue crop to gain better erosion control.
  • For crop rotations which include hay, the rotation can be lengthened by maintaining the existing hay stand for additional years.


  • Switch crops to maintain perennials in the rotation, if necessary.
  • Consider herbicide carryover to avoid crop failures.

Iowa Practice Standard

Iowa Job Sheet