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Soil Enhancing Pea Plantings Added to Crop Rotation

R.D. Offutt Company added peas to its Minnesota farms’ crop rotation beginning Spring, 2015. About 1,000 acres of peas will be harvested this year, with gradual adoption for rotation into all Minnesota acres by 2020. “This is one more step toward the company’s continuous commitment to environmentally sustainable practices in food production.” said Keith McGovern, President and CEO.

Peas are legumes which provide a wide range of important soil quality benefits. Most notable are legumes’ ability to supply most (up to 90%) of its own nitrogen needs thanks to symbiotic Rhizobia bacteria living in the roots. This symbiotic relationship between bacteria and legumes means they actually fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. In addition, legumes can take up large quantities of soil nitrogen, which is necessary to form soil organic matter.

After harvest, the remaining nitrogen-rich plant residues gradually decompose and release into the soil. About two-thirds of the nitrogen fixed by a legume crop is made available in the soil the next growing season, translating to fewer crop inputs.

“Agronomically, this is a win,” said R.D. Offutt Company Regional Agronomist, Nick David, PhD. “We can plant peas the year before we plant potatoes, harvesting the end of July. That allows time to plant a multi-species cover crop, like tillage radishes or a mix of mustards, which serves to scavenge and sequester nitrogen.”

David noted that while the peas will be harvested and used in commercial food production, everything else – the plants, the roots, etc. – will remain in the ground. The sequentially planted cover crop will be planted directly into the pea stubble without first tilling the soil, thereby maximizing the nitrogen fixing benefits. Following the pea plantings with a beneficial cover crop will ready the soil for potatoes.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, planting peas and other legumes reaps additional benefits beyond fixing nitrogen from the air and soil. These include increasing soil organic matter, improving soil porosity, recycling nutrients, improving soil structure, decreasing soil pH, diversifying the microscopic life in the soil, and breaking disease build-up and weed problems of grass-type crops.1

“We take quality of life in our shared communities very seriously. Adding peas into our rotation mix is good for the soil, good for the environment, and good for our business. These are the types of win-wins we will continue to adopt going forward,” said McGovern.

1 Source:      United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Quality Institute.