Maximizing Crop Nutrition with Corn and Soybean Rotation Systems

Greg Howard
9th May, 2024

Maximizing Crop Nutrition with Corn and Soybean Rotation Systems

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In South Africa, rotating soybean with maize boosts the maize's fiber content
  • Maize grown after soybeans showed higher energy and total digestible nutrients in wetter seasons
  • This crop rotation practice could provide a more nutritious diet and combat malnutrition
In South Africa, maize stands as a pivotal crop, forming the cornerstone of the diet for a significant portion of the population. Despite its critical role in feeding the nation, the nutritional challenges posed by malnutrition remain a stark reality. The University of the Free State has recently conducted research[1] that could potentially offer a sustainable solution to enhance the nutritional profile of maize, particularly in regions like the North-Western Free State, known for its less fertile sandy soils. The issue of malnutrition is not isolated to South Africa; it is a global concern that perpetuates a cycle of poverty and undernourishment[2]. As the primary sustenance for many, the quality of maize consumed directly impacts the health and economic potential of communities. This is particularly true in areas where maize is grown in monocultures, which can lead to soil nutrient depletion and reduced crop quality over time. The study explores the integration of soybean as a rotational crop with maize. Crop rotation is a farming practice where different crops are planted in the same area across different seasons or years. This technique is known for improving soil health and reducing the risks of pests and diseases. The introduction of soybean into the crop cycle is hypothesized to not only benefit the soil but also to enhance the nutritional content of subsequently grown maize. Soybeans are leguminous plants, meaning they have a unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient, into the soil through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their root nodules. This natural process can enrich the soil, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers, and potentially leading to a higher nutritional value in the maize grown after soybeans. The research team conducted field experiments to assess the impact of this rotational practice on the nutritional quality of maize. They measured various indicators, such as protein content, micronutrient levels, and the overall yield of the maize crop. The findings suggested that rotating soybean with maize indeed improved the soil's nutrient profile and the nutritional quality of the maize. This approach aligns with global efforts to enhance the nutrient content of staple crops, a concept known as biofortification[3]. Traditional methods, such as exogenous fortification—adding nutrients to foods during processing—are effective but can be costly and less sustainable in the long run. Biofortification, on the other hand, aims to increase nutrient levels through agricultural practices or breeding crops with naturally higher nutrient contents. The study's implications extend beyond improved nutrition. Incorporating soybeans into the maize cultivation cycle could also promote more sustainable agricultural practices by reducing dependency on chemical fertilizers and enhancing soil health, which is vital for long-term food security. Additionally, the findings contribute to the broader discourse on the role of cereals in global nutrition[4]. While maize and wheat are often not considered 'nutrient-rich' compared to other foods, they are fundamental sources of energy, protein, and micronutrients for large populations. The research emphasizes the importance of considering the entire nutritional profile of cereals, including the potential benefits of bioactives and dietary fiber, which are often overlooked in agri-nutrition research. The study by the University of the Free State offers a promising avenue for tackling malnutrition through agricultural innovation. By demonstrating that crop rotation with soybeans can enhance the nutritional value of maize, this research provides a viable strategy for addressing the intertwined issues of malnutrition, soil health, and sustainable farming. It also underscores the need for multidisciplinary collaboration across agriculture, nutrition, and food systems to ensure that dietary needs are met through environmentally responsible and socially equitable practices.

AgricultureNutritionPlant Science


Main Study

1) The nutritional benefits of maize-soybean rotational systems in the North-Western Free State, South Africa

Published 8th May, 2024

Related Studies

2) The Intertwined Relationship Between Malnutrition and Poverty.

3) Maize: A Paramount Staple Crop in the Context of Global Nutrition.

4) Viewpoint: Agri-nutrition research: Revisiting the contribution of maize and wheat to human nutrition and health.

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