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Crop rotation key to better production

Crop rotation has been part of agriculture for thousands of years and it is no different at the Habata Agri farming operation in Addo, where a wide range of products are grown.

Melons and citrus form the bulk of the products Habata produce annually for both the local market and for export.

However, there is space for other crops as well, and their yearly cabbage harvest is proving an important part of their annual production.

Depending on the circumstances, Habata sell most of their 80 tonnes of cabbage to the Lesotho market if conditions in the land-locked country are not suitable for their own crops.

Besides that, the cabbage plays an equally important role in the centuries-old farming method of crop rotation.

Habata production director Gary Webb said they were beginning to plant cabbages, which covered an area of about 32 hectares.

"We have had a good season with watermelons and spanspek, because it was dry and that always benefits those crops," he said.

"We are now beginning to plant cabbage in those areas as part of our crop rotation process."

He added this was a key part in replenishing the soil with the various nutrients required.

"You can also bring maize or wheat and this year, besides the cabbages, we will be planting oats, which we will just disc back into the soil."

Webb said they would keep their cabbage production to a certain amount to fit in with market requirements.

"We have produced a greater amount in previous years, but if the market gets a bit tight it can be a problem.

"A few times we just had to disc it back into the soil and then it becomes expensive."

Nevertheless, cabbages have their role to play, continuing a process which has been in place for thousands of years.

Then, farmers in the Middle East may not have understood the scientific theory of rotating crops, but they worked out the practical implications, alternately planting legumes and grains to keep the soil in a healthy state.

It developed from a two-field system, where half was planted and the other half lay fallow, to a three-field system, with two-thirds being planted and a third lying fallow.

This naturally increased production because of the greater area being cultivated.

In the early 16th century, farmers in present-day Belgium adopted the four-field rotation system, including fodder and grazing crops, which allowed livestock to be bred all year round.

The four-field crop rotation system became a key development in the British Agricultural Revolution.

Further crop-rotation development came in the 1800s in the United States when George Washington Carver taught southern farmers to rotate soil-depleting crops like cotton with soil-enriching crops like peanuts and peas.

There is no limit to the number of crops that can be used in a rotation, or the amount of time a rotation takes to complete.

Decisions about rotations are made years in advance, seasons in advance, or even at the very last minute when an opportunity to increase profits or soil quality presents itself.

There is no single formula for rotation, but many considerations are taken into account.

At Habata, the hardy cabbage, as well as oats this year, plays the key rotational role, with leaves and cabbages not harvested being ploughed back into the soil, providing the necessary nutrients for other crops.



Cabbages at Habata Agri play an important role each year, both for the local market and in the crop-rotation process. Picture: Supplied
 
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