DUTCH STEWARDS OF THE LAND: ROTATING ALFALFA FOR SOIL HEALTH
According to the June 2016 publication from the Canadian Public Trust Research, only 29% of Canadian public surveyed believes Producers are good Stewards of the Environment. Dutch would like to counter that perception of our Canadian Producers. It’s in that spirit, that we would like to introduce and showcase to you one of our many producers who put a great deal of heart into caring for their farmland and being a good Steward of the Environment.
Meet Sheldon Okerstrom of Moose Jaw Saskatchewan. On his family’s farm, they work hard to leave at least a small portion of their active crop land in an Alfalfa rotation crop every year. It’s part of their long term 30 year best management practice plan, and they intend to continue this rotation through all of their 3,500 acres 500-600 acre sections at a time.
The concept of rotating a perennial legume like Alfalfa is a similar concept to a plow down crop, but instead of not working the land for 1 year after the crop was planted, the producer will let the land rest for three. When the three years is up, they finally harvest and sell the hay and are able to put a cash crop back on the land. The Okerstroms benefit with big yields and amazing fertile soil after their Alfalfa rotation. They choose Tap Root Alfalfa specifically due to its expansive root network. A mature Alfalfa crop can have roots that reach down 8 feet! This can help break through compaction, lowers the water table, and helps reduce salts on alkaline fields. According to the Okerstroms, these fields don’t get sloughs like the others do either.
Big Benefits of Alfalfa Rotation
- Saving on Inputs. Legume’s ability to capture nitrogen from the air not only improves soil fertility, but it saves on inputs! According to the Government of Alberta, “In the last few years nitrogen fertilizer costs have been roughly about $0.60/pound of actual N, which means that at this N price, a legume can create a nitrogen store of $40 to $100+/acre”.
- Building Soil Quality. According to Dr. Martin Entz with the University of Manitoba, a field with Alfalfa rotation will see a benefit for 10 years after the Alfalfa has been removed; this is because of the organic matter the crop provides as well as the expansive 8 foot root network providing pathways of nutrient exploration for future crops.
- Reducing Chemical Dependency. Legumes are known to break disease cycles that can affect grain crops when added to a crop rotation. For some producers, it’s a logical alternative to use a two or three year perennial legume in their annual rotation rather than pesticides.
- Reducing Fertilizer Dependency. Legumes are known to feed the soil valuable nitrogen, which means producers will not have to apply as much synthetic fertilizer.
- Low inputs and decent payout. Alfalfa is a low maintenance crop with little fertilizer inputs that can get you a little bit of cash as well. Projections regarding the market demand for hay in Canada are expected to be good moving into the future.
- Improved earthworms, insects, and microorganisms. Adding a legume rotation will create a rich microbial environment within the soil.
If you’re interested in submitting a story about how you, a friend, or a family member is a Steward of the Environment, please contact Jessica by phone or email at 306-781-4820 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written and Published by Jessica Kohls, BSc, PgCE – Dutch Soil Biologist
Interview with Sheldon Okerstrom