Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Ruis SJ, Stepanovic S, Blanco-Canqui H (2023). Intensifying a crop– fallow system: impacts on soil properties, crop yields, and economics. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 38, e42, 1–10. https://


Open access.


Intensifying crop–fallow systems could address increased weed control costs, increased land or rental costs, reduced crop diversity, and degraded soil properties in water-limited environments. One strategy to intensify such systems could be the insertion of a short-season crop during fallow. But, how this strategy affects soils, crop production, and farm economics needs further research. Thus, we studied the impacts of replacing fallow in a winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L)–corn (Zea mays L.)–fallow system with a short-season spring crop [field pea (Pisum sativum L.)] on crop yields and economics from 2015 to 2019 and 5-yr cumulative effects on soil properties using an experiment in the west-central US Great Plains. After 5 yr, replacing fallow with field pea increased microbial biomass by 294 nmol g−1 and plant available water by 0.08 cm3 cm−3 , and reduced bulk density by 0.1 g cm−3 and cone index by 0.73 MPa in the 0–5 cm depth. It had, however, no effect on other soil properties. Field pea yield averaged 2.24 Mg ha−1 . Field pea reduced subsequent crop yield by 15–25% in two of three crops compared with fallow. However, economic analysis showed replacing fallow with field pea may improve net income by $144–303 ha−1 , although income across the 5 yr differed by $65 ha−1 in favor of fallow. Replacing fallow in winter wheat–corn–fallow rotation with a short-season spring crop offers promise to improve some near-surface soil properties while increasing net economic return during fallow under the conditions of this study