Value-Added Management

Something I really enjoy doing is describing how and why agroecological farmland management adds value. Farmland LP sets land-use rotation standards.  This benefits specialty producers by creating synergies with other farmers to lower disease risks and increase yields.  For example, a vegetable farmer will work land that has been managed for several years by a pasture specialist.  In this way we capture both the advantage of specialist expertise and diversification.

Crop rotation diagramImage caption:  A diagram of the basics of land-use rotation that uses pasture to build fertility and different classes of annual crops to keep soil healthy.

Here are descriptions of pasture, seed, vegetable and cover crops, and their properties and functions. Pasture Pasture provides the foundation for soil health.  Composed of many long-lived plant species, their deep roots associate with fungi and mobilize minerals from soil layers inaccessible to annual plants.  These minerals are brought to the surface in leaves, eaten by animals, and become part of the topsoil as manure decomposes.  Pasture legumes build soil nitrogen stores, and sod-forming grasses develop soil carbon.  Land not suited to annual cropping is placed in permanent pasture, while the highest quality land rotates through pasture to be restored. Key Characteristics
  • Field duration:  5-15 years
  • Life history:  Long-lived perennial plants and livestock
  • Soil impact:  Deeply restorative
  • Percent land-use:  30-40%
  • Financial risk/reward:  Low risk/steady return
  • Examples:  perennial rye grass, forage tall fescue, chicory, white clover, subclover
Seed crops Seeds provide portable, storable and concentrated forms of carbohydrates, proteins and oils.  Seed diversity keeps disease in check, replenishes soil carbon, and permits response to changes in market demand.  Grains make straw that can be used for animal bedding and compost. Key Characteristics
  • Field duration:  3-10 years
  • Life history:  Annual
  • Soil impact:  Partially restorative to moderately depleting
  • Percent land-use:  30-40%
  • Financial risk/reward:  Medium risk/modest return
  • Examples:  wheat, rye, oats, sunflowers, buckwheat, flax, lentils, pintos, cover crop seeds
Vegetables Vegetables are important for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and to make meals tasty and interesting.  Composed mostly of water, they are more difficult to store, process and transport than other crops, and hence can sell for a comparative price premium.  The great diversity of species and varieties available makes vegetable cultivation a knowledge and labor intensive practice. Key Characteristics
  • Field duration:  1-5 years
  • Life history:  Annual to biennial
  • Soil impact:  Moderately to highly depleting
  • Percent land-use:  5-10%
  • Financial risk/reward:  High risk/high return
  • Examples:  tomatoes, squash, green beans, cabbage, lettuce, garlic, onions, sweet corn
Cover Crops Cover crops serve three major functions—protection of soil from erosion between seasons, restoration of soil carbon and nitrogen levels, and disruption of pest, disease and weed lifecycles.  Once well established, a cover crop can be used like a pasture for part of a year.  They are usually planted in the fall after a summer harvest and last until a new crop is sown the following spring or until the subsequent fall if a field needs a good rest and full nitrogen replenishment. Key Characteristics
  • Field duration:  6 months to 1 year
  • Life history:  Annual to biennial
  • Soil impact:  Restorative
  • Percent land-use:  10-20%
  • Financial risk/reward:  Low risk/low return
  • Examples:  annual rye, small grains, vetch, field peas, bell beans, clovers