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Crop Diversity

Crop Diversity Enables Healthy Soils, Higher Yields

By e.berteloot@maisadour.com - On 05.01.2022

Think about how you’re treating your soil. If you’re planting the same crop year after year, the soil microbes have a very limited diet and probably aren’t very healthy. Even if you’re rotating between two crops, that’s better than nothing but still very limited in terms of giving back to the soil. 

Press Article, Haut-Mauco, 09/12/2021

Diversity is key to healthy soils and, in turn, higher yields and a healthier planet. 

“We cannot think about agriculture the way we did in the past,” says Patrick Talavera, MAS Seeds head of diversification crops. “It’s very important to diversify with different crops. We need to bring new crops and cover crops to create green manure and improve the soils.” 

Diversification Supports Soil Health and Fertilizer Efficiency 

Adding more crops into rotation provides dollars back in farmer pockets. It boosts soil health, fertilizer use efficiency and therefore, reduces money spent on inputs such as synthetic fertilizer. 

“We’re focused on helping farmers find environmental cultivation solutions” says Francois Harambat, MAS Seeds marketing and sustainable agriculture director. “Diversity including cover crops and crop rotation is key. Think about adding in legumes, for example, that fix nitrogen and could help reduce fertilizer needs.” 

A recent study by Wageningen University & Research, proves diversity is the key to increasing nitrogen (N) yields year over year. 


Caption: Response of N yield of winter cover crops to the number of component species within mixtures in 2017 and 2018 at four sites: Grundhof (Germany), and Neer, Scheemda and Wageningen (all three in the Netherlands). Results of a linear mixed effects model with number of species as a categorical covariate. Green bars represent pure stands (n = 12), yellow bars represent 2-species mixtures (n = 6), 3-species mixtures (n = 2) and 4-species mixtures (n = 3). Error bars represent ±1×standard error. Different letters denote significant differences at P ≤ 0.05; Tukey HSD test. Source: Wageningen University and Research 


“Averaged over site years, species mixtures produced a 1.27 t ha higher amount of biomass and accumulated 27 kg N ha more nitrogen than pure stands,” the research indicates. 

Cover crops and forage mixtures also scavenge for any leftover nutrients remaining after the cash crops are harvested. This keeps the nutrients where they belong, instead of having them runoff of bare soil into water supplies or other undesirable locations. 

The soil also stays where it belongs when farmers diversify crops. It helps reduce wind and water erosion. Because it takes 100 years to produce 2.5 centimeters of topsoil, preserving this resource is critical. 

Be Intentional When Diversifying 

Creating a more diverse crop rotation provides benefits beyond soil health. In fact, the Noble Research Institute finds these key benefits to a more diverse rotation: 

  • Weed control – from enabling use of a more diverse group of herbicides, to cover crops suppressing weeds. 

  • Disease and insect control – year after year use of the same crop or similar crops boosts insect and disease populations. Breaking up the cycle reduced the buildup of insect and disease. 

  • Soil health improvement – alternating broadleaf and grass species helps mine nutrients from different layers of the soil, reduces compaction, can improve soil structure and boost fertility (when legumes are used). 

  • Crop yield boost – Noble research shows, even with the same fertility levels, a significant positive yield increase can be achieved with rotation. 

However, adding cover crops or diversifying crop rotations isn’t just a quick call to get whatever seed you can find. You’ll want to find high-quality seed from partners who put the work into researching the crops. 

“We have more than a decade of research, have field days and winter meetings to talk about what different varieties do” François says. MAS Seeds purchased a forage mixture seed company more than 10 years ago and continues to invest in research to understand the agronomics and economics of diversifying.  

In addition to corn, sunflower and winter oilseed rape, MAS Seeds’ legacy species, MAS Seeds today showcases a large portfolio of other field crop species. These new additions include soybean, sorghum, alfalfa, fodder beet, in addition to forage mixtures and many cover crops adapted to various environments. 

“It’s a challenge, and we know farmers take risk when they’re trying something new,” François adds. “We have years of data to show the impact to soils and measure the benefit versus risk to farmers.” 

In addition, the seeds are tested for germination and overall quality before they are delivered to the farmer, ensuring they’re set up for success. 

A diversified crop rotation presents many environmental and economical benefits for farmers, if they’re willing to give it a try. If you’re interested in learning about the many different crop options available and what benefits they might provide, contact us.

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