Diversified Cropping can be as Profitable as Conventional Systems
Article from agronomy.org
Which is a better strategy, specializing in one crop or diversified cropping? Is conventional cropping more profitable than organic farming? Is it less risky?
To answer these questions, the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute agronomists established the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) in 1990. This research is funded by USDA-ARS.
Systems ranging from species-diverse pasture and organic systems to more specialized conventional alfalfa-based forage and corn-based grain systems were compared at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.
Crop production analysis was published in the 2008 March–April issue of Agronomy Journal while this companion article focuses on the net returns and associated risk exposure of these systems. Full research results from this current study are presented by Chavas et al. in the 2009 March–April issue of Agronomy Journal.
Given the technological progress in agriculture, concerns have been raised about the sustainability and envrionmental implications of current management practices. This has driven interest in low-input, diversified and organic farming systems. This research group has reported on the productivity of a range of cropping systems, including organic systems. Their findings indicate that diverse, low-input cropping systems can be as productive per unit of land as conventional systems. However, these systems are associated with more variability in yields, primarily due to the difficulty of mechnical weed control in wet springs. In their latest research they looked at the profitability of these same systems, with a focus on net returns and associated risk exposure.
"In our study we found that diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping," explains Joshua Posner, University of Wisconsin.
With feed grade premiums the organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn and soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.
Rotational grazing of dairy heifers was as profitable as the organic systems. And to the researchers surprise, including risk premiums into the evaluation did not change the ranking of the systems. This study indicates that governmental policy that supports mono-culture systems is outdated and support should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.
The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at http://agron.scijournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/101/2/288.
A peer-reviewed international journal of agriculture and natural resource sciences, Agronomy Journal is published six times a year by the American Society of Agronomy, with articles relating to original research in soil science, crop science, agroclimatology and agronomic modeling, production agriculture, and software. For more information visit: http://agron.scijournals.org.
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