Building Soils for Better Crops, Third Edition

Summary and Sources

SARE Outreach
Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es | 2010 | 294 pages
PDF (6.8 MB)

This title is temporarily out of print. We expect to publish an updated edition in the spring/summer of 2021.


There are literally dozens of rotations that might work well on a particular farm. The specific selection depends on the climate and soils, the expertise of the farmer, whether there are livestock on the farm or nearby, equipment and labor availability, family quality-of-life considerations, and financial reality (potential price minus the cost of production). (However, vegetable farmers will sometimes include low-return crops in their rotations because customers expect to find them in the mix at a farm stand or farmers’ market.) From an ecological view, longer and more complex rotations are preferred over shorter ones. It also makes a lot of sense, once equipment is in place, to stay flexible instead of having a rotation set in stone. If you’re ready to adjust to rapid market changes, changes in labor availability, crop pest outbreaks, or unusual weather patterns, you’ll be in a stronger position economically, while still maintaining a complex rotation.


Anderson, S.H., C.J. Gantzer, and J.R. Brown. 1990. Soil physical properties after 100 years of continuous cultivation. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 45: 117–121.

Baldock, J.O., and R.B. Musgrave. 1980. Manure and mineral fertilizer effects in continuous and rotational crop sequences in central New York. Agronomy Journal 72: 511–518.

Barber, S.A. 1979. Corn residue management and soil organic matter. Agronomy Journal 71: 625–627.

Cavigelli, M.A., S.R. Deming, L.K. Probyn, and R.R. Harwood, eds. 1998. Michigan Field Crop Ecology: Managing Biological Processes for Productivity and Environmental Quality. Extension Bulletin E-2646. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Coleman, E. 1989. The New Organic Grower. Chelsea, VT: Chelsea Green. See this reference for the vegetable rotation.

Francis, C.A., and M.D. Clegg. 1990. Crop rotations in sustainable production systems. In Sustainable Agricultural Systems, ed. C.A. Edwards, R. Lal, P. Madden, R.H. Miller, and G. House. Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Hanson, J.D., M.A. Liebig, S.D. Merrill, D.L. Tanaka, J.M. Krupinsky, and D.E. Stott. 2007. Dynamic cropping systems: Increasing adaptability amid an uncertain future. Agronomy Journal 99: 939–943.

Gantzer, C.J., S.H. Anderson, A.L. Thompson, and J.R. Brown. 1991. Evaluation of soil loss after 100 years of soil and crop management. Agronomy Journal 83: 74–77. This source describes the long-term cropping experiment in Missouri.

Grubinger, V.P. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Production: From Start-Up to Market. Ithaca, NY: Natural Resource and Agricultural Engineering Service.

Havlin, J.L., D.E. Kissel, L.D. Maddux, M.M. Claassen, and J.H. Long. 1990. Crop rotation and tillage effects on soil organic carbon and nitrogen. Soil Science Society of America Journal 54: 448–452.

Karlen, D.L., E.G. Hurley, S.S. Andrews, C.A. Cambardella, D.W. Meek, M.D. Duffy, and A.P. Mallarino. 2006. Crop rotation effects on soil quality at three northern corn/soybean belt locations. Agronomy Journal 98: 484–495.

Katsvairo, T.W., D.L. Wright, J.J. Marois, D.L. Hartzog, K.B. Balkcom, P.P. Wiatrak, and J.R. Rich. 2007. Cotton roots, earthworms, and infiltration characteristics in sod–peanut–cotton cropping systems. Agronomy Journal 99: 390–398.

Krupinsky, M.J., K.L. Bailey, M.P. McMullen, B.D. Gossen, and T.K. Turkington. 2002. Managing plant disease risk in diversified cropping systems. Agrononmy Journal 94: 198–209.

Luna, J.M., V.G. Allen, W.L. Daniels, J.F. Fontenot, P.G. Sullivan, C.A. Lamb, N.D. Stone, D.V. Vaughan, E.S. Hagood, and D.B. Taylor. 1991. Low-input crop and livestock systems in the southeastern United States. In Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education in the Field, pp. 183–205. Proceedings of a conference, April 3–4, 1990, Board on Agriculture, National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. This is the reference for the rotation experiment in Virginia.

Mallarino, A.P., and E. Ortiz-Torres. 2006. A long-term look at crop rotation effects on corn yield and response to nitrogen fertilization. In 2006 Integrated Crop Management Conference, Iowa State University, pp. 209–217.

Merrill, S.D., D.L. Tanaka, J.M. Krupinsky, M.A. Liebig, and J.D. Hanson. 2007. Soil water depletion and recharge under ten crop species and applications to the principles of dynamic cropping systems. Agronomy Journal 99: 931–938.

Meyer-Aurich, A., A. Weersink, K. Janovicek, and B. Deen. 2006. Cost efficient rotation and tillage options to sequester carbon and mitigate GHG emissions from agriculture in eastern Canada. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 117: 119–127.

Mohler, C.L., and S.E. Johnson. 2009. Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual. No. 177. Ithaca, NY: Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service.

National Research Council. 1989. Alternative Agriculture. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. This is the reference for the rotation used on the Thompson farm.

Peterson, G.A., and D.G. Westfall. 1990. Sustainable dryland agroecosystems. In Conservation Tillage: Proceedings of the Great Plains Conservation Tillage System Symposium, August 21–23, 1990, Bismark, ND. Great Plains Agricultural Council Bulletin No. 131. See this reference for the wheat-corn-millet-fallow rotation under evaluation in Colorado.

Rasmussen, P.E., H.P. Collins, and R.W. Smiley. 1989. Long-Term Management Effects on Soil Productivity and Crop Yield in Semi-Arid Regions of Eastern Oregon. Pendleton, OR: USDA Agricultural Research Service and Oregon State University Agricultural Experiment Station, Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center. This describes the Oregon study of sunflowers as part of a wheat cropping sequence.

Werner, M.R., and D.L. Dindal. 1990. Effects of conversion to organic agricultural practices on soil biota. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 5(1): 24–32.