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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #342830

Research Project: Improvement of Soil Management Practices and Manure Treatment/Handling Systems of the Southern Coastal Plain

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

Title: Effects of crop rotations and intercropping on soil health

item Sigua, Gilbert

Submitted to: Managing Soil Health for Sustainable Agriculture, Volume 2
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/11/2017
Publication Date: 7/31/2018
Citation: Sigua, G.C. 2018. Effects of crop rotations and intercropping on soil health. Managing Soil Health for Sustainable Agriculture, Volume 2. 1-27.

Interpretive Summary: The agricultural sectors of the United States and other parts of the world has evolved productively over time to meet the challenge of providing adequate food, feed and fiber for an increasing population under the constraints of natural resource scarcity and changing climate. As productivity in agriculture continues to increase, the natural resources used to support agriculture are being depleted or degraded. The central issue is the “tillage-based” farming needed to be replaced with more sustainable systems in order to safeguard the world’s future food supplies. Food supplies worldwide will largely depend on raising production per unit area of farmed land. The “key” to a sustainable future is to move towards more ecologically friendly farming systems that are more effective in harnessing nature to sustain higher levels of productivity. Critical to this is an increase in the quantities of organic matter on and in the soil, so as to provide energy and nutrients required by soil-inhabiting “flora” and “fauna” that constitutes the “life” of a soil, hence benefiting soil health. Crop diversity, including crop rotations and intercropping can contribute to improving soil health and managing pests and diseases. Crop rotations and intercropping principles are friendly to improving soil health by increasing biodiversity and enhancing nutrient availability. Both crop rotations and intercropping systems will promote a more diversified plant-microbe community, thereby enabling new interactions that could promote soil health enhancement. Intercropping and crop rotations as part of agricultural operations increase diversity and interactions among plants, arthropods, mammals, birds and microorganisms resulting in more efficient use of space, water, sunlight and nutrients. The consequences of crop rotations and intercropping systems can be far reaching on improving soil ecosystem services and increasing crop productivity while enhancing soil health. Hence, this chapter is aimed to establish an effective setting for a better and innovative understanding of how crop rotations and intercropping systems can effectively deliver additional tools toward ecosystem sustainability and soil health enhancement.

Technical Abstract: Interest in evaluating the health of soil resources has been motivated by growing cognizance that soil is a critically important component of the earth’s biosphere, functioning not only in the production of food and fiber, but also in ecosystems services and global environmental quality. There was a great deal of concern in developing management practices that improve the capacity of the soil to perform its various functions by identifying the physical, chemical and biological soil attributes and by quantifying the changes in the state of soil resulting from different agronomic practices. The goal of this chapter is to discuss the effects of crop rotation and intercropping management practices that are relevant to productivity and their impact on soil health enhancement and stability. This chapter will also attempt to contribute a holistic appreciation of the importance of legumes and soil organic matter in maintaining healthy soils and sustaining agricultural crop productivity.