Alternative Crops for Dryland Agriculture in the Intermountain Pacifc Northwest

Final Report for EW98-009

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $67,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $7,501.00
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Edward Adams
Washington State University Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

Washington State University held 11 workshops for 179 agricultural professionals in Cooperative Extension, agricultural support industries, and farmers. Farmer and agricultural industry experience and university knowledge from the 37 speakers provided information to increase alternative crop knowledge in the areas of Safflower, Setting Up Drills for Alternative Crops, Millet Production, Alternate Wheat, Alternate Cereal Crops, Mustard and Canola, Sunflower, Buckwheat, Field Corn, Flax, Linola, and Setting Up Combines. From the presentations on crop agronomic characteristics, markets and marketability, economic feasibility, fertility and pest management, and environment and community benefits, a technical writer wrote 10 Extension bulletins.

Project Objectives:
  1. Agricultural professionals in Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Conservation Districts, and agricultural support industries, along with farmers, will increase their knowledge of alternative crop production systems suitable for dryland agriculture in the intermountain region of the Pacific Northwest.

    Agricultural professionals in Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Conservation Districts, and agricultural support industries, along with farmers, will have a resource base on alternative crop production for dryland agriculture in the intermountain region of the Pacific Northwest.

Introduction:

The 1996 Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act has many farmers considering changing their current farming system. The “Freedom to Farm” provisions within the act allow farmers to look at alternative crops and cropping systems. Farmers look to new crops and systems to help diversify and stabilize income as well as solve crop production problems inherent in current crop rotations.

There are a number of new possibilities and a few older choices enjoying a new look as alternative crops in dryland Eastern Washington. These include somewhat familiar crops like canola and sunflowers. Others crops tried on a limited basis include red lentils and lupines. Innovators are trying dryland corn, safflower, Sudan grass, millet, and mustard. New crops provide new opportunities for livestock production using crop aftermath, silage, or forage.

In the past, farm programs forced many farmers to focus their rotations on soft-white, winter wheat. Wheat was the stable cash crop. Therefore, rotations were referred to as “Wheat-Fallow,” “Wheat-Barley-Fallow,” and “Wheat-Barley-Peas.” Alternative crops were those that added a crop between wheat crops or replaced peas, lentils, or barley which were grown primarily for the boost they provided the wheat crop yields by breaking weed and disease cycles.

This project provided training seminars and supporting materials to farmers and agricultural professionals in Cooperative Extension, NRCS, Conservation Districts and agricultural support industries that would increase their knowledge of alternative crops suitable for dryland agriculture in the intermountain region of the Pacific Northwest. Supporting materials developed from the seminars included news releases, 10 extension bulletins, and Internet sites with the written materials as well as links to more information on alternative crops.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Chris Feise
  • Tom Platt

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Ag Horizons Team developed a series of 11 alternative cropping workshops. An advisory committee developed the proposed seminar schedule and proposed the topics and speakers for each seminar. Each workshop included farmer, agricultural industry, other relevant experience as well as university knowledge. A typical crop workshop included presentations on crop agronomic characteristics, markets and marketability, economic feasibility, fertility management, pest management, and benefits to the environment and community. Farmers received an honorarium for sharing their experiences, and experts from outside the region augmented the programs when feasible.

Throughout the process, the advisory committee identified priority needs and identified agreed-upon projects. Formative evaluations provided information to guide the project. Written evaluations gathered at the end of each workshop included the following questions.
·How do you rate the value of the training received?
·What suggestions do you have for modifications of the workshops?
·What was the effectiveness of the materials used in workshops?
·What else do you need to know before experimenting with an alternative crop?

In order to involve those unable to attend the seminars and tours, and to provide teaching tools for future use, an agricultural writer attended the following informational workshops and developed a written record of the information presented. News releases and articles issued to local papers and agricultural magazines helped to spread the information further. WSU published a series of 10 bulletins and published them on various WSU websites. The presenters and the appropriate departments within WSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics reviewed the bulletins. Each workshop participant received a copy of the completed publication from the workshop(s) he or she attended.

02/23/99 Harrington, WA--Safflower
03/23/99 Ritzville, WA--Setting Up Drills for Alternative Crops
04/06/99 Spokane, WA--Millet Production
01/26/00 Spokane, WA--Alternate Wheat Crops
01/27/00 Ritzville, WA--Alternate Cereal Crops
02/09/00 St. John, WA--Mustard and Canola
02/10/00 Mansfield, WA--Mustard and Canola
02/17/00 Harrington, WA--Sunflower and Buckwheat
02/24/00 Colfax, WA--Field Corn
02/28/00 Davenport, WA--Flax and Linola
07/12/00 Davenport, WA--Setting Up Combines in conjunction with Wilke Field Day & Tour

Outreach and Publications

The hands-on nature of the Setting Up Combines workshop presented at the Wilke Farm Day did not yield information that would yield a useful bulletin; however, 10 publications are now available in PDF format through Washington State University website locations. The publications are also available in hard copy through the Bulletin Office, Washington State University, PO Box 645912, Pullman WA 99164-5912, 509-335-2857 or 1-800-723-1763; http://pubs.wsu.edu/ or through the sites listed below.

Cooperative Extension Agricultural Horizons, Alternative Crops
http://pnw-ag.wsu.edu/AgHorizons/crops/index.htm

EB1890: Safflower Production Tips
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1890/eb1890abstract.htm

EB1911: Grower Experiences with Field Corn in Eastern Washington, 1996-2000
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1911/eb1911Abstract.htm

EB1912: Grower Experiences with Alternate Cereal Crops in Eastern Washington, 1997-2000
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1912/eb1912Abstract.htm

EB1913: Grower Experiences with Buckwheat in Eastern Washington, 1997-2000 http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1913/eb1913Abstract.htm

EB1915: Grower Experiences with Flax and Linola in Eastern Washington, 1997-2000
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1915/eb1915abstract.htm

EB1916: Grower Experiences with Sunflowers in Eastern Washington, 1997-2000
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1916/eb1916abstract.htm

EB1917: Grower Experiences with Selecting and Using No-Till Drills in Eastern Washington, 1997-1999
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1917/eb1917abstract.htm

EB1918: Grower Experiences with Millet in Eastern Washington, 1997-1999
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1918/eb1918abstract.htm

EB1919: Grower Experiences with Mustard and Canola in Eastern Washington, 1997-2000
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1919/eb1919abstract.htm

EB1920: Grower Experiences with Alternate Wheat Crops in Eastern Washington, 1997-2000
http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1920/eb1920abstract.htm

Outcomes and impacts:

These seminars and documentation from the workshops provided the region with alternative crop information previously not readily available in Washington State. It was one more tool to assist reducing the risk to farmers for trying small acreage of these crops in their attempts to diversify. Evaluations collected from the individual workshops included the following comments.

Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact
--I am a fertilizer sales representative, it gives me more information for my customers.
--The Alternate Wheat Crops workshop contained concise, useable information on suitable conditions for different varieties and agronomic test plot work results.
--The Alternate Cereal Crops workshop presented local market information and how to reach the market and new crop seed sources.
--The Mustard and Canola workshop helped to determine what variety to use, fertility management and guidelines, seed rate, preferred spring planting dates, and crop coverage.
--The Sunflower and Buckwheat workshop presented information on frost dates, marketing, harvesting moisture content, advantages of each crop, crop rotation information, fertility and variety differences, and contact information.
--The Field Corn workshop presented herbicide, fertility and weed control information, planting details, marketing ideas, and potential economics of the crop; however, we still need many questions answered.
--The Flax and Linola workshop presented local production, planting dates, and crop rotation information in addition to web sites for reference.

Impacts on Agricultural Professionals--Evaluations from participants indicate that they planned to put the following information to use now:
--Explore the export potential for Japanese Millet Hay, grazing potential in the fall for Pearl Millet, and summer-fall grazing for Pearl or Foxtail.
--Market information
--To do more looking for new crops and to look for markets first.
--Better understanding of the economics, inputs of millet.
--Planting date and depth.
--Information about use and types grown, i.e. for my no-till rotation and use as hay.
--How the roots (mass) grow and how that can affect growth yield.
--Seeding date because of frost tolerance; millet definitions.
--Safflower--planting rate, fertilizer rate, varieties for bird versus oil seed
--Herbicide registration requirements
--Soil fertility and planting density of Safflower
--Great and overall view of Safflower; lots of agronomic and rotation information
--Seeding rate, costs, and fertilizer separation
--Do lots of planning before launching into alternative crops
--Cost analysis for buy, lease, and rent using WSU software.
--Growing peas and barley together successfully.
--The rate and type of starter fertilizer; also the depth and placement of main quantity of fertilizer.

Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers--One farmer was convinced to try millet again when he learned that it could be planted earlier. Another farmer worked with Extension to obtain millet varieties that could be grown for certified seed.

Here is a partial list of comments from farmers in answer to the question, "What did you like best about this seminar?"
--Audience participation and questions.
--Information from Dr. Clair Stymiest was very helpful.
--It provided good information about Safflower; presented in a way that was easy to understand.
--Every subject was very well presented and the visuals were easy to see. The presentation on the Wilke project was very well done.
--Very informative.
--Clair Stymiest’s presentation--Good information, especially from Clair Stymiest. We need more such interaction.
--David Baltensperger--the Nebraska speaker provided a lot of information and knowledge, great information and presenter. Also enjoyed Tracy Eriksen's practical experience.
--The varieties of speakers and viewpoints presented made it easy to endure and quite interesting (slide shows helped).
--The chance to share ideas. The open discussion format is great with these small groups.
--The problems and applications for various drills.
--Informal discussion and sharing of ideas.
--The Grower/Dealer section

Other comments from participants:
--I will not grow oats!
--The possibilities growing of some barley/triticale this spring.
--Mustard and Canola prices are too low to seed this year
--Profitability isn't likely on mustard and canola—it must be looked at as a rotation crop
--The field corn grower presentations shared practical information—all useful.
--The Flax and Linola workshop gave a good rule of thumb for planting dates.
--I will use the web sites for more information on Linola.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Ag Horizons Team developed a series of 11 alternative cropping workshops. An advisory committee developed the proposed seminar schedule and proposed the topics and speakers for each seminar. An agricultural writer attended each workshop and developed 10 Extension bulletins from the information presented at the workshops. The presenters and the appropriate departments within WSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics reviewed the bulletins. WSU printed and distributed the bulletins to the participants. WSU also published the bulletins on various websites.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

A summative evaluation focused on the ultimate impact of the project. Data compiled from a questionnaire mailed to all workshop participants and returned by 22 participants questioned the changes in the perceptions, knowledge, skills, and new practices adopted by the end users.

On a scale of 1-5, with 1 equaling a strong disagreement with the statement and 5 equaling a strong agreement with the statement, the following average response reflected participants’ ideas.

Pleased with the quality of information received at the workshop(s). Average: 4.25
18 participants indicated this was important.

Pleased with the amount of knowledge gained about crop products. Average: 3.75
15 participants indicated this was important, while 1 indicated that it was not.

Pleased with the amount of knowledge gained about crop marketing. Average: 3.4
13 participants indicated this was important, while 3 indicated that it was not.

Pleased with the amount of knowledge gained about crop production. Average: 4.19
17 participants indicated this was important.
Increased skill level about the alternative crops production as a result of the workshop(s) Average: 3.71
12 participants indicated this was important, while 2 indicated that it was not.

When asked, “Have you tried growing an alternative crop since attending this workshop?” Eleven indicated they had tried an alternative crop and eight indicated they had not. The respondents provided this list of crops tried.
--Hard white spring wheat
--42 acres of Corn
--No-till Winter wheat, DNS, HRW, malt bly, C.C. spring wheat
--Millet, sunflower, safflower
--Garbanzo beans
--Durum & DNS
--Millet, safflower, mustard, canola, sunflower, buckwheat, flax, alternate cereal
--Corn, grain sorghum
--Sunflower
--Mustard, tricale, DNS-consistent protein, N and varieties
--Mustard, hard red spring wheat, durum, safflower
--Not a field crop, but beef steers in low ground.
--I was a participant and work to develop alternate crops.

When asked, “What information would be helpful to you in order to increase the success of alternative crops in the region?” The respondents provided this list.
--Profitability
--Long-range weather forecasts, i.e. rainfall, etc.
--More of the same
--Weed control
--I’m in 10” rainfall region, need information primarily for this rainfall region
--How to make it rain, there has not been enough moisture or temperatures for most, if not all, of these crops. One year of safflower does in soil moisture that has not recovered after 3 years. Seed zone moisture is too deep at planting time for millet it then does not get any moisture during the growing season and heat units are too low. Mustard and canola have been frozen out the last 2 years in the spring. Sunflower and buckwheat, again no seed zone moisture and none during the growing season. Flax can get a stand at high seeding rates, but they do not compete with Russia thistle. Again, I think they need more moisture during the growing season. The best luck has been with triticle—that’s really no surprise.
--Best seeding dates, available markets are needed
--Marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing, processing value added products
--We need a crop that will work in the west end of Whitman County. I have heard of spelts, but have not been able to get any information on it.
--Just keep up the information on these crops, consistent updates
--Need more moisture!!
--Still need more work on what crop follows what and pros and cons of each crop and rotations and what chemicals used in one crop might close the window of planting another crop for example, atrizine=no wheat and S.U’s=no mustard
--Continue the SARE program by expanding to include fruit and more workshops. Repetition is always good.
--Well, the low ground I mentioned above is too wet for annual spring tillage, so I planted grass and harvested with calves. I made more net profit per acre than with spring wheat or peas in ground suitable for these crops. This year, I have fall wheat on that tilled ground. I hope I will beat the calf crop profit-wise, but I doubt I can do it with spring wheat or peas and I can’t raise fall wheat on the same ground annually and get top crops.
--Methods that might succeed about introduction and promotion of new crops including reluctance of new growers because new crops might not be eligible for insurance, etc.
--Marketing a new crop, from a new area of production, is extremely difficult. Need better market assessment of weeds and transportation costs, plus processing costs.

Future Recommendations

The timing associated with a January start-up for the grant made it difficult to develop and deliver meetings to farmers during the first winter programming season. This compounded by the lengthy bulletin review and production process made the layout and printing of each bulletin stack up on each other instead of being able to stagger the process. Subsequently, requested and received a six-month extension to allow our Information Department enough lead-time to accomplish layout, printing, and web posting for each of the 10 bulletins.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.