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Old Idea in Farming Made New to Reduce Pesticides, Chemical Fertilizers

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Farmer Aaron Lehman relies on oats and other small grains to cut down on pesticides, chemical fertilizers and reduce weeds. (PracticalFarmers.org)
Farmer Aaron Lehman relies on oats and other small grains to cut down on pesticides, chemical fertilizers and reduce weeds. (PracticalFarmers.org)
 By Bob KesslerContact
June 13, 2016

POLK CITY, Iowa - Because pests like fields where the same thing grows year after year, growing oats and other small grains while the main crop takes some time off can keep pests from coming back.

The practice of small-grain crop rotation has been reintroduced by a few organic growers in Iowa, such as Lehman Farms Limited in Polk County.

Farmer Aaron Lehman says it's an old idea farmers got away from, but its time has returned.

"As we got better and better at growing corn and soybeans with industrial inputs like anhydrous ammonia fertilizer and sprays for weed control," he says. "We kind of got away from using oats."

Lehman says the key is to grow the other crops, usually oats and clover, for a full year to make sure pests don't have a place to return to. It's also good for crops, and the land, in other ways.

"So by breaking it up and having this longer rotation, hopefully we can control weeds," he says. "We can control pests, and we can control diseases without using the chemical methods."

Lehman also says this idea isn't just for organic agriculture and it can work at home.

"These are things that we ought to be using all the way down to the garden level," Lehman says. "That we'll see the results in the garden by having a longer rotation, by moving those crops around. So I think it can work at all levels."

Lehman's demonstrating small grain crop rotation techniques for organic farmers and gardeners at his farm next Monday in Polk County.

It's part of Practical Farmers of Iowa's series of "Field Day" events for anyone with an interest in low-impact farming.

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