Food plot crop rotation saves time and money
Food plot crop rotation saves time and money
By Babe Winkelman
This season, I started a new food plot program on my hunting land in central Minnesota. It’s a system based on the age-old practice of crop rotation, which allows the rotated plants to benefit one another in a very natural way. An article on Hunterspec.com, written by Rodney M. Dyer and Trenton Tallman, discusses it in detail. But I’ll encapsulate the main points here for those of you who manage land for wildlife – and more specifically… for BIG BUCKS!
…Let’s start with the basics. What is a crop rotation? A crop rotation is a method of planning which crops to plant in certain locations to utilize the benefits the plants provide for future crops. This is accomplished by planting plants called legumes, like Vita-Rack Velvet Clover and Vita-Rack Booming Beans, which pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it into the soil through a fixation process. The legumes create small nodes on the roots that contain the fixated nitrogen which can be used by other plants in the future. Nitrogen, the first element of a fertilizer formulation (N-P-K) is essential for plant growth. It jumpstarts germination in non-legume plants such as grasses and also gets Vita-Rack Winter Forage growing strong.
Commercial nitrogen fertilizer comes in the form of Urea and Ammonia Nitrate, which is expensive and can be corrosive to equipment. The benefit of using the rotation system is that you do not have to apply a nitrogen fertilizer every time you plant your food plots because it is put into the soil every growing season by the Vita-Rack Velvet Clover and Vita-Rack Booming Beans. Vita-Rack Velvet Clover fixates up to 150 pounds of nitrogen annually! When the rotation is used, a cost savings up to 45% can be reached on fertilizer alone. The savings is approximately $41 an acre, not to mention the savings in fuel and time.
A simple example of a crop rotation is having two food plot fields. One has Vita-Rack Velvet Clover, a perennial legume blend. The second field has annuals such as Vita-Rack Booming Beans planted in the spring and Vita-Rack Winter Forage planted in the fall. The food plot with the Vita-Rack Velvet Clover can be either frost seeded in February or seeded on a prepared seedbed in March or October depending on your planting zone. This field will remain in Vita-Rack Velvet Clover for three growing seasons. During that time it will accumulate nitrogen which will act as a food source.
One of the benefits of having the Vita-Rack Velvet Clover in for the three seasons is that provides a year-round food source for the deer. This food source is necessary when other vegetation is not growing in the late winter and early spring months. Another benefit is when the other plot is planted and bare of plant life, there is still a food source to keep deer on the property. After three growing seasons, the Vita-Rack Velvet Clover is tilled under to make way for the Vita-Rack Winter Forage.
The second field is planted seasonally with annuals. First in the spring, Vita-Rack Booming Beans should be planted to fixate nitrogen and provide literally tons of green leafy forage for wildlife during the spring and high dry summer months. The Vita-Rack Booming Beans also provide a large amount of cover for turkeys and upland birds. When August arrives, it’s time to till under the Vita-Rack Booming Beans and plant the Vita-Rack Winter Forage. Vita-Rack Winter Forage provides an excellent protein source to keep deer going through the tough winter months following the rut.
The following spring the Vita-Rack Booming Beans are planted again, followed by Vita-Rack Winter Forage, for a total of three annual rotations. After the third fall, Vita-Rack Winter Forage is planted; the rotation changes; and Vita-Rack Velvet Clover is planted in its place the following spring. The original Vita-Rack Velvet Clover becomes Vita-Rack Winter Forage the following fall. Once the Vita-Rack Velvet Clover is established in the new location, simply allow the Vita-Rack Velvet Clover to grow for three years and rotate out as discussed.
The first year the Vita-Rack Winter Forage is planted, the initial fertilizer application will require a higher amount of nitrogen fertilizer than any other year, but after that application all three blends will use the same low nitrogen blend. For example, the Vita-Rack Winter Forage will take an initial 300 pound per acre mix of 17-17-17. After that, all three blends will use the same fertilizer blend of 0-20-20 at 300 pounds per acre as long as the rotation is in effect. The great thing about this is that there will be no need to switch fertilizers from one plot to the other and there is no need to change settings on the fertilizer spreader - making it simple and effective in producing a viable food plot.
Once the food plots are up and growing, watch for grass weeds that can hinder the growth. A common concern is over which chemical to use. The reason for this is if the wrong type of herbicide chemical is applied to the plot, it can either damage the plants or even kill them. The great thing about the rotational system is that all the seed blends are Poast Plus grass herbicide compatible, which reduces the risk of unwanted crop damage for a more productive food plot. With these seed blends being grass herbicide tolerant, there is no need to recalibrate the spraying equipment for a different herbicide; or drain and mix a different chemical for separate fields. It’s more time efficient and less expensive too. Plus, you can use 2,4D-B on the broadleaf weeds if they become a problem in your Vita-Rack Velvet Clover and Vita-Rack Booming Beans.
This method of crop rotation is nothing new. Farmers have used it for many years. By putting this practice in your food plot program, you can save time and money – while giving your deer the nutrients they need to achieve their potential!
Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for nearly 30 years. Watch his award-winning “Good Fishing” and “Outdoor Secrets” television shows on Versus (VS.), Fox Sports Net, Wild TV and many local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times where you live.