Improving Agricultural Sustainability through Crop Diversification

Final Report for LNC01-193

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2001: $97,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Robert Myers
Jefferson Institute
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Project Information


This project was aimed at developing alternative crops for Missouri, allowing corn and soybean farmers to diversify their crop rotations. The approach involved contacting farmers directly about growing the crops, arranging market options, assisting the farmers with how to grow the crops, and evaluating the crops’ economic performance. We also developed a variety of educational and outreach programs in conjunction with this project, and conducted market evaluation and development.


Project Objectives:

Our objectives were to:
1) Have farmers try alternative crops on their farms
2) Evaluate the economic performance of these alternatives in Missouri
3) Develop field tours in conjunction with these crops
4) Hold workshops and seminars on the alternative crops
5) Develop or refine educational print and internet materials on the crops
6) Evaluate marketing opportunities and begin market development


Materials and methods:

The initial proposal with this project was to have farmers try canola and amaranth on their farms. Due to short-term market limitations with amaranth, we also worked with farmers on adoption of sunflowers, which are a "new" crop in Missouri. With canola, five farmers were asked to try 10 to 20 acres. The five agreed, but two were not able to plant the canola due to weather conditions (in Missouri, canola has to be planted by mid-September to get optimum winter survival).

With amaranth, we had four farmers who planted at least 10 acres of amaranth. All four harvested the crop, and arrangements were made to sell the crop into the food market.

For sunflowers, we had a somewhat different approach. Instead of inviting specific farmers to try the crop, we conducted a number of educational meetings on sunflowers around the state (see below), which significantly increased the number of acres and number of producers growing sunflowers in Missouri.

Our educational programs consisted of field tours both on private farms and university farms, along with winter meetings and workshops. These are described in more detail below. We also developed economic profitability worksheets on each of the three alternative crops, and updated our canola, sunflower, and amaranth guides. To better support farmers trying these crops, we developed guides on seed sources and marketing outlets for these crops. These materials are online at

Research conclusions:

Some of the results with this project are described under economic analysis and farmer adoption. However, one of the key impacts, which came about through this project was a greatly enhanced education level on these alternative crops among farmers and agriculture leaders in Missouri. In the winter of 2002, we held eight meetings on sunflowers at various Missouri locations, attracting over 200 farmers. We held more in-depth meetings in the fall of 2002 and winter of 2003, providing daylong workshops on crop diversification at five locations in Missouri. Total attendance at the workshops was 180 farmers, extension agents, and agribusiness reps. We provided short overviews of these alternative crops to larger numbers of people at more general agriculture events, including university field days and state agriculture conferences. During the two-year project, presentations were made at 15 additional events in Missouri. We also were able to reach farmers and rural Missourians through radio, television, and print media coverage. At this stage, farmer awareness of alternative crops is far higher than it was three years ago before the beginning of the project.

Economic Analysis

Our economic analysis showed that canola, amaranth, and sunflowers each provide higher profitability than traditional Missouri crops under most scenarios. However, the most recent Farm Bill has increased subsidies for wheat and decreased canola subsidies. This change in subsidy rates, along with changes in price structure for canola and wheat, have greatly narrowed the advantage canola has had over wheat in potential profit. Sunflowers have their best economic advantage over soybeans under dry conditions or when double cropped, but in some instances they have shown very competitive profit to soybeans when both crops are planted in May. Amaranth is a relatively high-income crop, but is held back by the very small size of the market. We have determined that short term sunflower acreage could expand to 100,000 acres in Missouri, while canola and amaranth acreage will be limited to about 1,000 acres each in Missouri without development of local processing or stronger regional market demand. Cost of transportation cuts into the potential demand for amaranth and canola in Missouri, especially canola. Profit analysis for each of these three crops is on the Jefferson Institute website at

Farmer Adoption

Farmer adoption of the alternative crops varied by crop. With canola, of the three farmers who tried the crop initially, only one continued, primarily due to a problem fitting canola into their rotation. However, the farmer who continued has increased his canola acreage to 200 acres, and an additional farmer near him started with canola this fall. Based on attendance at a canola field day, we expect additional farmers will try the crop in 2004.

Amaranth adoption has been held back by the market demand. The farmers who grew amaranth felt it was a profitable crop, but the main buyer they worked with was slow to pay them, which made them hesitant to plant amaranth again for that buyer. Market opportunities are looking more promising for 2004, and we expect to have some growers producing the crop on a few hundred acres in the state.

Sunflower has been by far the biggest success, perhaps reflecting the greater infrastructure already in place for this crop. When the project started, there were three regular buyers of sunflowers for birdseed in Missouri (these buyers were importing nearly all their sunflowers from out-of-state). Through efforts of the Jefferson Institute, the number of buyers has doubled to six buyers of bulk sunflowers, and two additional volume buyers of cleaned and bagged sunflowers. We have tripled the sunflower growers and numbers of acres from 20 farmers and 2,000 acres, to about 60 growers and over 6,000 acres in 2003. Although part of the funding to accomplish this sunflower increase came from matching sources, the SARE fund also contributed to this success.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

For each of the three alternative crops in this study, we developed or revised 4-page guides on how to grow and market the crop. These color guides were distributed at a number of farmer events, and also through our website. Over 1,000 of these guides were distributed during the project. We also developed information kits on canola and sunflowers, which included additional written material on markets, profitability analysis, crop insurance, pest control, harvesting, and variety information.

Events held in conjunction with this project included canola field tours in 2002 and 2003, an amaranth field tour in early fall 2001, a sunflower tour in late summer 2001, and general alternative crops tours in 2002 and 2003. The crops were also featured at demonstration plantings in eight locations in Missouri. In August 2002, we staffed an information booth on alternative crops at the Missouri State Fair, next to a demonstration garden that included sunflowers, amaranth and eight other alternative crops. Over 1,000 people stopped by our booth to pick up literature and try sunflower snack samples, and thousands more were able to walk past the plots, which have signage by each crop.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

While awareness of canola, amaranth, and sunflowers has increased through this study, and economic and yield data have been collected on-farm, we are still fighting an uphill battle to gain adoption of these crops. Sunflowers have been moving forward due to an increase in the number of in-state markets, and awareness of those markets, but more delivery points would aid the process of gaining adoption. Amaranth and canola are further behind the curve. With amaranth, we have identified market development as the key challenge that must be overcome. With canola, we are attempting to establish a modest level of production that will make development of local processing feasible, in turn spurring more production.

Information Products

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.