Reaping what we’ve sown

Felicia Cruz, Hanna el Debbar, Jodel Fernandez, Daenne Gomez, Mark Tan, Benny Tañedo, and Chad Yee

When the words “development” and “technology” are found in a sentence, it’s typical for one to imagine artificial intelligence or microbiology or astrophysics. And there’s nothing really wrong with that—the human mind has, time and time again, pushed at the limits of understanding, always seeking for improvements to the multi-layered problems of life.

Of course though, this perspective is sorely limiting. Technology isn’t only about the Higgs Boson particle or about the cutting-edge chemistry used by Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg; there’s much technology and development to be found in your great-great-great grandfather’s farm.

And not just any kind of development, mind you—it’s sustainable, too. After all, there is such a thing as crop rotation.

As seen here quite clearly.

As seen here quite clearly

Food, feed, fallow

Crop rotation, in essence, is growing a set of crops in a regular succession over the same piece of land within a period of time. It’s a common farming practice where different series of crops are planted in the same area each sequential season.

It was called “Food, feed, fallow” once people figured out how to go about it, since the process cuts the land into three parts: One for the actual crops, another to feed the livestock or the animals in the farm, and another third to lie fallow or idle so that it could recover the organic matter being used.

Common cycles in crop rotation

Common cycles in crop rotation


Yeah. I like that.

4 years for you!

Now, you may be asking: How is this a sustainable piece of development? Well, if you slept through your history classes, you should know that this has been around since the Roman times. Even by then, we’ve come a long way from simply planting seeds somewhere and expecting them to grow. There’s a clear development here—one of the first of man, to be exact.

By the 1950s, crop rotation fell out of favour with most developed countries due to the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to make life easier for farmers. However, this also gave rise to health concerns as it damaged soil structure and fertility—soon, farmers returned once more to crop rotation, finally seeing the unsustainable side of chemicals and pesticides, while recognizing the sustainability in crop rotation.

This practice has since improved plant nutrition, benefitted soil health, and helped control the spread of diseases. It was also indispensable to the growth of the British Empire, and it’s just as important to us Filipinos with our tropical climate and agriculture industry.

Organic touch

“With organic farming, your production costs are significantly reduced because organic inputs are found on the farms,” explains Jose F. Lorenzo, a farmer from South Cotabato and recipient of the most outstanding corn farmer in the Gawad Saka Award last March 2011.

His average corn yield is five tons per hectare, as compared to the average two to three tons in other farms; this is because he rotates the planting with vegetables. Also, he lets the leaves of harvested crops rot, thus giving him natural fertilizer without the need for animal manure.

This is just one of countless other cases where crop rotation had a positive effect on farmers. Of course, the correlation here is clear between organic methods and crop rotation—however, some other points of exploration and inquiry remain for the practice.

At least that's one question down.

At least that’s one question down.

Here’s another interesting case to note: Scientists from the Iowa State University have found that if crops are rotated more—over a three or four year period—and include alfalfa or oats, then the use of fossil fuels on the farm can be drastically reduced.

Their study showed that between 2003 and 2008, nitrogen fertilizer inputs decreased 66% in the 3-year rotation and 78% in the 4-year rotation. This, of course, contributed to the study of fossil fuel savings, by reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Although there is no direct connection—aside from crop rotation, of course—these two cases clearly illustrate how practicing this sustainable operation isn’t just a technological development concerned for nature: On the business side, it is also very financially viable, and worthwhile when considering costs and yields. Who would have thought that growing food would be a win-win thing for us and nature?

Nature, nurture

Crop rotation is pretty straight forward; it’s really just growing different crops in one place for one season. Perhaps, next to fire, it is the first historical vestige of man’s inherent reason and capability over nature. And to think that we still use it up until today—that’s definitely some technology then!

It has been so significant, so much so that that scientists who have experimented with crop rotation have discovered that there is scientific use for this practice due to their finding an increase in the number of good bacteria.

These findings could be used to develop plant varieties that encourage beneficial microbes in the soil—this also gives the possibility of engineering cereal crops able to associate with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria normally associated with peas.

With these in mind, perhaps there is indeed so much more to be found with this sustainable development. Perhaps around 4000 years of using this means that we’re only about to reach the beginning of true development, of true science. Perhaps, after everything that man has made, the first is, indeed, the most meaningful.




Albert, Jose Ramon G., Ph.D. “How Important Is Agriculture in the Economy?” NSCB. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

“Crop Rotation: Benefiting Farmers, the Environment and the Economy.” Aprodev, July 2012. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

 Sarmiento, Romer. “Farmer Bags Award for Crop Rotation and Organic Methods.”Article:. N.p., 17 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

“Sustainable Crop Rotation.” Science Today. N.p., 4 May 2012. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

“Why Crop Rotation Works. New Research Could Help Explain the Dramatic Effect on Soil Health and Yield of Crop Rotation.” News from the John Innes Centre. N.p., 18 July 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

Photo sources — in order of appearance

tell me your secrets grass

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