Montana State University

Cropping Systems

Research Centers

A cropping system represents a producer’s approach to production. It can be as simple, complex, or somewhere inbetween. A conventional tillage wheat-fallow system represents the simplest system, whereas no-till winter wheat followed by spring peas, or canola, or the inclusion of a mixed-species cover crop is a significantly more complex system. Complexity means more decisions, more choices, and probably requires better records of inputs. But the benefits can be significant; greater yields, more efficient water and nutrient use, less weed and pest pressure, and more market options following harvest can be attained with a diverse cropping system.

Economics dictates what is sustainable in the short term. But short term production must always be balanced with what is sustainable over the long term. We know that production practices that only mine the soil for nutrients, and that disregard soil erosion eventually deplete the soil of the potential to be productive. The lack of diversity in a cropping system is an opportunity for weeds, diseases, and insects to find their niche. Cropping systems that mimic the native environment stand a better chance of long-term sustainability. Modern agricultural methods dictate that crops be grown in monocultures for ease of planting, managing, and harvesting. But a measure of diversity can be achieved through crop rotations and direct seeding.

Use these Agronomy Decision Tools to improve your cropping system.

For more information contact your local county agent using this page or contact Kent McVay the MSU Extension Cropping Systems Specialist

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