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Hemp, mother nature’s natural regenerator - benefits of growing hemp during crop rotation.

Hemp, mother nature’s natural regenerator - benefits of growing hemp during crop rotation.

Hemp is a super plant with medical and industrial significance. However, it can also act as a wonderful rotation crop, which is a lesser-known fact. Read on to find what is crop rotation and how hemp can help retain soil fertility and improve food production.

Crop rotation and its importance for agriculture

Crop rotation has been practised in agriculture since ancient days to increase soil fertility and for sustainable production. For example, legumes (pea, lentils, soybean etc.) can replenish soil nitrogen by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, hence legumes are often grown in rotation with sugarcane in Australia to improve cane production and to break the disease cycles. Similarly, hemp is rotated with wheat because hemp improves the nitrates and potassium in the soil. In addition, the long taproot (main root) system of hemp digs deeper, thereby making the compact soil loose to improve soil aeration.

Benefits of hemp for crop rotation

Many properties make hemp an ideal choice for crop rotation:

  • Hemp has a long taproot system that can absorb water from deeper water tables, making it drought resistant. As a result, hemp reduces the competition for water in the topsoil for the next crop in the cycle, thus alleviating the effect of water scarcity in arid regions.
  • Research shows that hemp can also reduce the need for herbicides as it provides a large canopy cover that blocks the light for weeds to grow. Further, hemp secretes chemicals like caffeic and coumaric acids which can suppress the growth of weeds.
  • Hemp is good for phytoremediation- Phytoremediation is the process of removing pollutants and heavy metals from the soil by growing crops that can pull contaminants from soil and store them in leaves or stems via a unique sequestering mechanism. Due to its long roots, hemp can pull a lot of toxic heavy metals from the soil, such as selenium, cadmium, lead, and nickel.

How to rotate hemp with other crops?

Hemp can be rotated with corn, clovers, and wheat. For example, in Kentucky, US, a common crop rotation practice is to grow corn and wheat after hemp cultivation. Also, hemp is mostly grown after clover (a legume), and this cycle can last up to five years to replenish the soil with the necessary nutrients. Read about Kentucky hemp crop rotation here.

Further, according to a field study conducted in northeast Spain, hemp is an excellent predecessor for wheat because it can improve soil fertility for up to two years. The study also found that hemp can act as a brilliant catch crop as it reduced the leaching of soil nitrates to deep soils (30-90 cm) in nitrate-vulnerable zones.

In the modern era of climate change and water scarcity, the sustainability of cropping systems is of paramount importance as we need to feed two billion more people by 2050. Hence, adding hemp to cropping systems will not only improve soil fertility but it will also bring financial profits for drought-affected farmers and ensure global food security.

 

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