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Mandatory three year rotation a reality

What are the impacts on producers?

November 14, 2007  By Top Crop Manager

34aIn Prince Edward Island, potato growers must follow mandatory crop rotation
legislation. Like the buffer zone legislation, the mandatory crop rotation legislation
was introduced to reduce the risk of nutrient, sediment and pesticide losses
to watercourses in order to improve water quality and reduce impacts on fish
and other aquatic species.

There are two components to the legislation, one addressing high sloped land
and another that restricts the frequency of row crop production. "Under
the legislation, producers are not allowed to grow row crops, including potatoes,
on land where slopes are greater than nine percent if the high sloped area is
larger than one hectare in size," explains Ron DeHaan, acting manager of
the Sustainable Agriculture Section, Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Aquaculture. "In addition, to comply with the legislation,
producers are not allowed to grow row crops more frequently than once in any
three year period." However, if producers are willing to develop a management
plan, the legislation will give them some flexibility.

Maps have been produced for the entire province defining the areas that are
affected by the high sloped component of the legislation. If producers develop
a management plan that gives an acceptable erosion rate of less than three tonnes
per acre per year as determined by the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE),
they can farm the high sloped areas identified on these maps. The Prince Edward
Island Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture has a number of
soil conservation specialists that can assist producers with the development
of a management plan for these high sloped areas. The management plan may include
the use of better agronomic practices such as conservation tillage, spring plowing
and winter cover crops. If slopes are excessively long, strip cropping or erosion
control structures such as terracing may be required.


Producers can also submit a management plan that allows them to grow row crops
more frequently than once every three years. "Producers would have two
options under this component of the legislation," says DeHaan. Under the
first option, if producers submit a management plan that provides for an acceptable
erosion rate as determined by the USLE, they would be permitted to grow row
crops more frequently. This would be especially attractive to producers who
grow potatoes on flat land. If their grades are less than three percent (three
feet of rise in 100 feet) and their slope lengths are less than 1000 feet long,
they could continue farming: for example, with a two in five year potato-cereal
rotation with fall tillage of the grain and no winter cover after potato harvest.
If the slope length on this flat land was greater than 1000 feet, they could
continue farming with the shorter rotation but they would need to install an
erosion control structure that would reduce the slope length.

The second option would be to develop a management plan that would give the
same erosion control benefits as the standard three year potato-grain-hay rotation.
The crop management factor (C factor) of the USLE is used for making this comparison.
"We compare the C factor for a traditional three year rotation of potato-grain-hay,
to the C factor of any alternative rotation. If the C factor for the alternative
rotation is at least as good as the traditional rotation, then it would be considered
an acceptable alternative," says DeHaan. "Under this scenario, producers
have many rotational options. However, the shorter the rotation the greater
the requirement for conservation tillage and the establishment of winter cover
after potato harvest."

For example, producers could go to a two year potato-grain rotation, providing
their management plan includes conservation tillage on the grain land and planting
a winter cover crop after potato harvest. This rotation would give an equivalent
C factor. "Producers have two options for the winter cover component,"
explains DeHaan. "If they harvest potatoes early enough in the season,
they can establish a winter cover crop, if not they will have to meet the winter
cover requirement by applying a hay mulch."

DeHaan notes that many producers have complied with the mandatory three year
rotation legislation on every parcel of land that they own and lease. To-date,
management plans have been submitted for between 30,000 and 40,000 acres on
Prince Edward Island. The legislation, which was originally enforced under the
Department of Agriculture, has recently been moved to the Department of the

"Although the number of acres of potatoes has declined in the past few
years, we don't believe it's because of the legislation," says DeHaan.
"Two main factors have contributed to the decline, the recent poorer prices
for potatoes on the open market and the voluntary buy-down program that was
introduced in the larger potato growing regions of North America." Five
years ago the Prince Edward Island potato acreage was about 117,000 acres; in
2005 the production was approximately 96,000 acres.

Developing and implementing a management plan on-farm
Linkletter Farms near Summerside has developed and implemented a management
plan for their farm. The farm is managed by four partners and has 1400 acres
in production. "We have gone through the process of developing a management
plan, getting the permit and implementing it on our farm," says, president,
Gary Linkletter. "It certainly takes a lot more management and has created
a lot more expense for us."

Under the management plan, the crop rotation is approved for a two in five
year rotation. This means a lot less fall plowing, establishing winter cover
crops and a lot more work. "We require an additional tractor because we
have so much more plowing to do in the spring ahead of the planters," says
Linkletter. "We haven't identified yet if there are any agronomic impacts
by doing the spring plowing. We know that the breakdown of the organic matter
is different." They usually apply Roundup in the fall to try and accelerate
the breakdown.

For winter cover, Linkletter usually broadcasts grain on all of the early harvested
potato acres prior to harvest. The grain is usually applied a few days ahead
to give the grain time to germinate, and then the harvesters come through and
cover the grain with soil. Linkletter adds that this practice takes more time
and has added considerable expense to the operation.

"The mandatory three year legislation was quite devastating to our operation,"
says Linkletter. "We have a large packing plant and a lot of storage, and
we now have a lot of empty buildings. We had built up an infrastructure to handle
a particular acreage, but when one-sixth of the acreage is pulled away from
you, it has a big impact." Linkletter notes that the buffer legislation
was also quite significant for their operation, and they lost a number of acres
there as well.

"We know the mandatory rotation and buffer zones legislation make sense
in some locations, but in other areas it's superfluous," says Linkletter.
The Summerside area, for example, has very flat land with very few watercourses.
"We don't mind implementing these practices if there was compensation,
but the farmers have borne the entire cost of the legislation. There has been
no real cost to the government or the public." Linkletter feels that since
the public gets these benefits for free, they do not realize the extra time
and costs the farm community has incurred to implement these changes.

Linkletter notes that the management plan and approval for a two in five year
rotation has been their salvation, except it has cost a lot in extra equipment
and time to implement. He also notes that some producers have been forced to
clear and break previously wooded areas to try and make a living. "Producers
have to make a living, and when they have resources that they've built up over
the years taken away without compensation, it makes it very difficult,"
says Linkletter. "While we're happy to do our part, we've been asked to
do it all." -30-



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