BENEFITS OF CROP ROTATION ON REFUGE LEASE LANDS
John F. Crawford
Regardless of soil type, a sound crop rotation program is essential to maintain the health of the land. As an integral part of farming and Integrated Pest Management (IPM), crop rotation enhances the productivity and proficiency of any farm operation. Crop rotation is a basic fundamental of IPM. Pest control, organic matter content, host crop management, beneficial soil organisms and soil tillage are all beneficial properties of crop rotation. Row crops are more intensively managed simply because they have a much greater, potential value than cereal grains.
The lease lands allow only 25% of the total acreage to be planted in row crops. This rotation benefits the crops (grains, alfalfa, and onions) through residual nutrition, a highly intensive management program that includes hand weeding and cultivation of onions and sugar beets. Hand weeding is a tool not many crops have the luxury of being associated with and is used for onions. It reduces total chemical use and effectively lowers the total weed seed source for future cereal grain crops. A monoculture of cereal grains is an extremely weak practice in comparison to crop rotations that provide waste grain as a food source for wildlife. This same monoculture leads to pest resistance, population buildup and tillage problems that create a recipe for crop failure or destruction. Implementation of crop rotation within our system and climate potentially doubles grain production on rotated cropland versus the cereal grain monoculture on the Lower Klamath portion of the lease lands.
Equipment used to harvest cereal grains has not changed appreciably over several decades. The harvest loss percentage remains constant regardless of production. Therefore, with increased cereal grain yields through crop rotation, the total amount of waste grain available for wildlife has increased proportionately.
Currently, two row crops, potatoes, and onions are grown on the lease lands and adjacent private land. Small potatoes left during harvest are a primary food source for White-fronted and Snow Geese, not only in the fall, but are an exclusive source of nutrition during the spring migration. Onions provide many benefits for wildlife in addition to being another valuable rotational crop for farmers. It is an attentively managed crop that is frequently hand weeded and cultivated. Aggressively tilled soil provides maximum cereal grain production following onions. There are also reduced levels of important economic pests that in turn reduce the amount of chemical usage following a well-managed onion crop. The Tule Lake portion of the lease lands is currently the only area that can support row crop growth. Without the rotation of row crops, grain pests and weeds would be devastating to crops and wildlife habitat. The lease lands located on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge are not suitable for row crops because the leases are in very large blocks of land where there is no adequate water delivery or drainage system necessary to conduct row crop farming. In addition, temperatures are typically colder in the Lower Klamath area than Tule Lake, which would make row crops more susceptible to frost damage. As discussed above, grain yields are significantly lower in the Lower Klamath leases than the Tule Lake leases.
Generally, row crops consume somewhat more water than the grain crops and less than alfalfa. Due to the design and location of the lease lands in the Klamath Project delivery system, water used on the Tule Lake lease lands consists entirely of return flows or drainage from the private lands to the north. This means that a minimal amount of water utilized for lease land irrigation is actually diverted from Upper Klamath Lake specifically for use on these lands. As a consequence, irrigation on the lease lands has little or no effect on availability of water for fall flooding on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. During the drought years of 1992 and 1994 there were shortages of water for irrigation purposes and also for refuge use. The greatest reduction for flooding Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge lands was in 1992. In that severe drought year, ninety percent of the historically flooded acreage received water for flooding.
In summary, it is important to recognize row crop rotation as an excellent management tool that increases production levels, assists in pest control and provides a food source for wildlife on the refuge. It is the only avenue to meet certain requirements of the Kuchel Act such as maximizing lease revenue through grower competition during the bid process and providing the allowable 25% of acreage to be planted in row crops.
(John Crawford has lived his entire life in the Klamath Basin. He began his career as an agriculturist at an early age. His family has farmed in the Tulelake area including the lease lands for the past 40 years. He is a member of the board of directors of Tulelake Irrigation District, and a member of the Hatfield Working Group. He also served the agricultural community as president of the Klamath Water Users Association for 4 consecutive years.
POTATOES – BARLEY – ALFALFA – WHEAT – ONIONS – LIVESTOCK – HORSERADISH – SUGAR BEETS