Rotational cropping systems are nothing new but changing from a cash crop-based rotation to a sod-based rotation has the promise of giving farmers a viable new option for increasing yields, simultaneously enhancing soil quality, and still promoting environmental stewardship. North Florida sod-based rotations often involve bahiagrass being added into the traditional crop rotation mix. There are several benefits for incorporating a sod-based rotation on your farm.
Bahiagrass is a great choice for North Florida as it is not a new crop for most farmers, it is drought tolerant, and can be grown on most soil types present here. Farmers with a sod-based rotation can increase economic yields by utilizing the bahiagrass for grazing livestock or harvested for seed or hay. Grazing cattle have the added benefit of increasing the biomass of the root systems in the following crop, which allow for less nutrient applications and potential water need costs.
Bahiagrass also acts to reduce plant pathogens and nematodes available in the soil as they are not a host for common cash crop pathogens. This gives a synergistic effect which improves the soil health, thus enhancing the plant growth and the ability to better tolerate disease in your cash crop rotation.
Economic models of Sod-based rotation systems were produced from a 2018 multiyear joint study effort by UF/IFAS within Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. They developed a simple spreadsheet that interested producers can use to see the economic benefits of developing a 4-year Bahia- Bahia- peanuts- cotton rotation on their farm. This model predicts that on a 200-acre farm, sod-based rotation can increase net profit from under $50,000 a year with a peanut-cotton-cotton rotation, to over $90,000 per year with the sod-based rotation.
Click here for more information and to download the spreadsheet calculator http://sodbasedrotation.com/
Key Benefits to Sod-Based Rotations (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/AG/AG25800.pdf)
- Enhances soil and water quality by increasing organic matter content approximately 0.1% per year or 1.5% over 15 years. This reduces irrigation needs by 50%–70% thus cutting irrigation costs and improving environmental water usage.
- Increased water and nutrient holding capacity in the soils from increased organic matter. This results in increased earthworm populations as well as better soil function. Earthworm and bahiagrass root channels increase water infiltration resulting in more subsoil moisture.
- Reduced pesticide use (more than 50%) since perennial grasses reduce plant diseases and nematode presence in the field.
- 20%–50% percent increase in peanut yields compared to the best conservation practices using a conventional rotation, mainly due to larger and deeper root mass.
- Reduced financial risks with half the farm out of “cash” crops, and perennial grasses withstanding drought, hurricanes, and various stresses better than row crops.
- Reduced N and K fertilizer inputs by 50% due to recycled nutrients in manure of grazing animals. For example, in the sod-based rotational study, cotton yields improved by 200 lbs/ac following grazing as compared to cover crops alone; much of this was due to livestock grazing causing roots of the following crop to grow deeper and faster and double the root exploration. Having bahiagrass in the system for 2 years will double the root mass over row crop rotations alone, and grazing livestock on winter grazing will double root mass again over non-grazed cover crops.
- Improved farm economic income by 2- to 6-fold over a 4-year period.