The role of crop rotations in determining soil structure and crop growth conditions

B. C. Ball*, I. Bingham, R. M. Rees, C. A. Watson, A. Litterick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

165 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing concern about the need to provide high-quality food with minimum environmental impact has led to a new interest in crop rotations as a tool to maintain sustainable crop production. We review the role of rotations in the development and preservation of soil structure. After first introducing the types of rotations in current practice and their impact on yield, we assess how soil and crop management in rotations determines soil structure, and in turn how soil structure influences crop growth and yield. We also briefly consider how soil structure might contribute to other beneficial effects of rotations, namely nutrient cycling and disease suppression. Emphasis is given to the influence of crop choice and, where relevant, interaction with tillage system and avoidance of compaction in the improvement and maintenance of soil structure. Crop rotations profoundly modify the soil environment. The sequence of crops in rotation not only influences the removal of nutrients from a soil, but also the return of crop residues, the development and distribution of biopores and the dynamics of microbial communities. These processes contribute to the development of soil structure. We have identified areas where further research is needed to enable the potential benefits of rotations in the management of soil structure to be fully exploited. These include: improved quantitative linkages between soil structure and crop growth, the consequences to soil structure and nutrient cycling of crop residue incorporation, developing natural disease suppression, amelioration of subsoils by crop roots, the fate of carbon deposited by plant roots in soil and the fate of organic nitrogen in soil.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-577
Number of pages21
JournalCanadian Journal of Soil Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPrint publication - Nov 2005


  • Compaction
  • Disease suppression
  • Microbial activity
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Organic farming
  • Soil structure


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