Production Blog

Rotate Your Thinking

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Weed scientists from Missouri and Iowa have found weed populations, like this soybean field battling marestail, capable of resisting five different classes of herbicide chemistry -- at the same time. That doesn't leave a lot of options. (DTN photo by Jim Patrico)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- I have a couple of farmer buddies that show up when friends gather. Somewhere between the potluck dinner, games of bags or horseshoes and apple pie, we always have a discussion about what's new in our respective fields.

This past weekend, it was too cold to play outside and we were at a finger-food birthday party. I had to stifle more than one giggle as these guys negotiated delicate teacups with their once-too-often-smashed thumbs. The good news is we had more time to verbally mull over farming than if we were distracted by competitive sports.

I don't typically include these farmers in articles, but they are often sources. They are my gut-check -- my lifelines when I need to sort the facts from the chaff. They also don't think they know anything -- which makes me trust them all the more.

This weekend the discussion started like this: "Rich, have you got what you're doing this spring all figured out?"

Farmer Rich: "Yup. Opposite of what I did last year."

Rich is a firm believer in crop rotation. He decided a long time ago he wasn't going to try to outguess the market. The acreage he devoted to soybeans last year will be in corn this year and vice-versa. He might even throw a little wheat in the mix when he feels a field needs it.

Whether he admits it or not, his justification for rotation is based on a combination of what's best from an agronomic standpoint. There were probably years when he could have made more money planting corn-on-corn. However, he's also watching his neighbors take some significant yield hits for that practice.

This informal information gathering runs both ways. Rich always wants to know what articles I've been writing. Since I'd just finished up preparing several stories on weed resistance, that topic was top of mind.

Me: "Are you worried about weeds and resistance to herbicides?"

Farmer Rich: "Nope. Don't have it. Not a problem."

Me: "Not even waterhemp? Marestail? Central Illinois was overrun with both of those weeds last year."

Farmer Rich: "Nope. I use a two-pass system. Always did. Never quit."

Me: "Weren't you tempted when Roundup got cheap?"

Farmer Rich: "Nope. If something appears easy and cheap, it usually ends up costing you in the end."

Hmmm ... I traveled to several different countries and across the U.S. last year to look at weeds. The message was always the same: we used the same product in the same crop in the same field over and over. It was simple. It was cheap. It worked. And then there would be that long hesitation, followed by the admission that "worked" may be past tense.

This week weed scientists from Missouri and Iowa both informed DTN that they've found weed populations capable of resisting five different classes of herbicide chemistry -- at the same time. That doesn't leave a lot of options.

Rich and I also discussed corn rootworms. Yep, we saw a resurgence of rootworm variant in Illinois last year -- which means soybeans aren't always a safe bet. However, rotation is still the best way to keep those beetles confused.

Rich made sure I knew that he didn't think my fascination with his dedication to rotation was all that big of a deal.

Me: "Well ... don't you think a lot of farmers maybe thought they could overcome those benefits with other practices."

Farmer Rich: "Ahh ... I don't know. Dad just told me it was always the best way and I never found one better."

Enough said.

(To see more on the benefits of crop rotation, see…)

Pamela Smith can be reached at



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Pamela Smith
4/29/2014 | 11:42 AM CDT
That true Curt. Cash rents dictate other realities too.
Curt Zingula
1/31/2014 | 7:24 AM CST
Last year, in my corner of the world, waterhemp showed up for numerous farmers even where multiple- herbicides have been used and rotation practiced. I'm one of those smug farmers who thought they could fool mother nature and lost! Still, when you farm next to a city (Cedar Rapids) that uses 1.1 million bu of corn daily, and pays well for it, the profitability of growing corn is hard to ignore. I just have to shake my head and roll my eyes when the University "experts" start penciling generic numbers to MY farm!
Pamela Smith
1/29/2014 | 4:46 AM CST
Dave--interesting thought. Are you saying farmers are inter-cropping soybeans into standing wheat?
Dave Watson
1/27/2014 | 8:24 AM CST
We need another rotational crop that will break things up even more. I would love to see the ethanol plants accept milo here in the northern third of the corn belt. We could probably inter-plant milo in standing wheat...raise 90% of a good wheat yield, and 85% of a good milo yield. Lot of guys here in Ohio are trying it with soybeans...but I fear it's raising their nematode levels and soybeans need more water than milo in August to make a yield.....