An Experiment: Increasing Yields Through Crop Rotation

It’s peanut harvest here in the North and North East region of Haiti, and while we are already busy gathering peanuts from our local farmers and partner we have to constantly be planning for the future. The end of one growing season gives way to thoughts about the next.

What we have learned with our partner farmers is that growing peanuts every season on the same plot can exhaust the soil and result in soil degradation as well as long decrease return in yields. MFK is working to introduce a new crop to these farmers, sorghum. Our hope is that growing sorghum between peanut seasons will prove to be environmentally (and financially) sustainable.

Sorghum has been a traditional crop in Haiti throughout its history, but as many farmers have increased corn production, it has become a largely underutilized. But with changing weather patterns many areas of the country have become more susceptible to drought. Sorghum, a highly drought tolerant plant can provide many farmers a solution when corn is no longer an option. Besides being more resistant to water stress than corn, it is also highly nutritious – a number one priority at MFK! Sorghum grows into a healthful grain that can be milled for flour, and virtually every part of the plant can be used. Sorghum canes can be juiced and used as a sugar substitute, while the vegetative stalk provides nutritive forage for goats and cattle. While this is all great news for the health and bottom line iof our farmers and their families, it is also great for soil and long term crop health.

Crop rotation with peanuts almost always makes sense because peanuts are a nitrogen fixing legume. Meaning they leave important nutrients –nitrogen- in the soil that plants such as sorghum need to grow. A farmer planting sorghum in a field previously used for peanuts does not have the heavy fertilizer requirements most farmers would be faced with for a successful grain harvest. This reduces the cost of planting as well as increases yields.

Even though rotating sorghum and peanuts sounds like a great idea it comes with many challenges. Sorghum has not been grown in our region for many years and farmers are hesitant to give it a try. Most farmers are planting sorghum for the first time and have little experience with the pest pressures, water requirements, and soil preparation needed for the best harvest.

Photo credit: Bunge NA