Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast

Crop Selections and Crop Rotations

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The primary cash crops grown in the ridges and valley are cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat. Prior to the 1980s, some specialty crops were grown on the Sand Mountain soils, including white potatoes, sweet potatoes, pimento peppers, tomatoes and small patches of other vegetables. But, the total acreage of these crops was small compared to cotton, corn and soybeans. Very little cotton is grown on sandstone plateau soils today, comprising less than 4 percent of total row-crop acreage [12].

Traditionally, crop rotations were determined by commodity price and government programs. Growing cotton every year on the same fields with no cover crop was common until the 1990s. A cotton-soybean rotation was adopted when the price of soybeans justified it. Wheat for grain double-cropped with soybeans is riskier than it is in the Coastal Plain farther south due to climate, but some growers in the region use double-cropping. Adoption of conservation tillage makes these rotations and double-cropping more feasible due to potentially higher yields, improvements in soil organic matter and reductions in compaction [4]. Corn for grain fits well into a three-year rotation but is planted only when the profit margin is competitive with cotton.