I just purchased a property, which has a decent amount of cropland right now (10 acres).
Now I have a lot of permie plans, but I am trying to not take on too much this year. So I am thinking about starting off on a 3 acre parcel at the top of my land.
That leaves 7 acres I know are next year's business.
Here's the question. I am the big city shot who has just moved into the area and the land has been rented out for years to a farmer. There is not a lease in place, and I am free to do what I want. But I want to fit into area, I don't want to hack people off or sound like I know more than I do.
The land has been in alfalfa for 2 years in a row. The last time I spoke to the farmer he said that it really needed to go into corn this year, said that another year of alfalfa wouldn't be good for the land.
What I want to avoid is corn or something that they use round-up or something that's just going to suck the life out of my soil.
Are there any other ideas? Soy?
I am meeting him on Saturday, and want to go armed with some knowledge and not sound like a total n00b.
Any help on the crop rotation cycle or other ideas I can take to him would be great.
Alfalfa is a long lived perennial that is greatly improving to the soil. Generally, once an alfalfa crop is established, it is left in place for a minimum of five years, and often as long as fifteen years. It just gets going in its second and third years, so ripping it out now really makes no sense from a farming standpoint.
It sounds like the tenant farmer wants to grow corn, because there is a heck of a lot more money there than in alfalfa. Corn, in terms of soil improvement, is about the polar opposite of alfalfa. Corn is about the heaviest feeder there is. Plus, as you suggest, corn gets a lot of chemical use, both herbicide and fertilizer.
From the standpoint of your land, you definitely should keep the alfalfa crop in place. It will provide any animals you have with excellent forage and hay. It will continue to improve your soils year after year. Corn would do nothing beneficial for your land now.
From the standpoing of your neighborhood, well, that's anybody's guess. Shooting from the hip here, as someone who once was new to the country, it sounds to me like the tenant farmer is trying to take you for a ride. Get the most money out of your land that he can, while he can. His response to your suggestion that the alfalfa planting is still very young, with years of productivity ahead, will likely tell you a lot about his motives. Also will be interesting to see what he says when you talk about alfalfa being a soil improving crop, whereas corn is a depleting crop. You'll likely be able to ascertain quite a bit about his motivations and morals in the ensuing discussion.
Country politics are no joke. You want to get along with your neighbors. But, IMHO, being seen as a sucker is the only thing worse than being seen as uncooperative. Taking a stand, for what's in your best interest, might be tense at first with the tenant, but will gain you respect from all the other neighbors in the long run.
How about a happy middle ground. Keep some in alfalfa do a modest crop of corn and a crop of corn, bean, and squash inter-planted. Add some windbreaks/ shelter belts, key-line plow and plant on contour and your well on your way towards sustainability without looking too crazy. All of the methods I mentioned have been substantiated so at least you can point to a study or example to back up your plan.