Alternative crops to diversify the traditional winter wheat/fallow cropping system in Northwest COlorado

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2011: $29,821.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: canola, flax, wheat
  • Vegetables: peas (culinary)


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, nutrient mineralization
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities

    Proposal summary:

    The three counties of Routt, Rio Blanco and Moffat comprise northwest Colorado. Compared to other areas of Colorado, this region is unique, not only in its location, but also in its agriculture and the environmental effects on agricultural production systems. Desert vegetation, variable topography, quite heavy soils, highly variable and limited precipitation, a short growing season and very cold winters are some of the challenges that face us as producers in NW Colorado. We have traditionally been limited to growing mostly winter wheat and forages. As grain producers in NW Colorado, we continue to use the outdated winter wheat/fallow production system. Additionally, we are isolated from grain markets, which are located primarily in the Denver area (150 miles away) and other areas of eastern Colorado. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there were 16,668 acres of wheat grown for grain in NW Colorado. As the three farmers leading this project, we collectively farm 8,500 acres of the region's wheat acreage. Winter wheat is produced under dryland conditions. We propose to develop a new cropping system for NW Colorado that includes winter peas, a leguminous crop, which will diversify the winter wheat fallow crop production system. This new cropping system for NW Colorado will contribute to soil health productivity, provide additional farm income and fit well into winter wheat production. Furthermore, with this new cropping system of winter wheat and winter peas, we can use the equipment that we currently have on the farm and will not have to invest in new equipment. Additional benefits include providing livestock locally produced feed instead of shipping feed into the area. Given the widespread support of the growers in the region, growers will be quick to adopt new cropping system technology if the field data and experience are positive, and the markets prove reliable and growers realize profits. We propose to expand current research that has been conducted in the area in cooperation with researchers from Colorado State University. We will conduct agronomic and markets/economics research for this alternative crop, along with research plots and strip plots to test the crop's adaptability to NW Colorado. CSU has conducted ongoing variety performance trials for winter wheat and other small grains for many decades in NW Colorado. These plots were again planted for winter wheat in fall 2010. Adjacent to these plots is a demonstration plot of winter peas. During the 2010 growing season, researchers from CSU at Fort Collins also put out three test plots looking at oil seed crops. From these plots, four species have been identified as having agronomic potential in NW Colorado. They are flax, camelina, canola (these three are oilseed crops) and lupine. These are also crops that need research on their viability in the region and can be scaled up as needed to a larger on-farm test. The major focus will be on winter peas and secondarily on three oilseed crops and lupine. This is to ensure long-term success and that additional crops will be in the pipeline to further diversify crop production in NW Colorado. Real field testing of these crops is also necessary to assess big game consumption of the crop. It is unknown what impacts deer or elk may have on any of the proposed crops. Big game may limit production of an alternative crop due to palatability. Introducing a leguminous crop into a traditional wheat-fallow cropping system will reduce the application of expensive commercial nitrogen fertilizers; increase needed crop diversity; disrupt weed, disease and insect cycles; spread crop production risks; and reduce soil erosion and runoff. Winter peas can be used locally as a protein source in livestock feeds; thus, deceasing the need to import protein sources. Furthermore, a new winter wheat/winter pea cropping system will stimulate local employment because crops are grown and utilized locally, creating a value-added impact. A winter wheat/winter pea cropping system where winter peas are grown on 16,000 acres with an estimated production of 1,500 lbs/acre at $0.15/lb would be valued at $3.6 million. With an economic multiplier effect of four, this alternative crop has the potential to produce more than $14.4 million of additional economic activity per year in this rural region of NW Colorado. For this project, the following activities/products will be accomplished: a newsletter article, a Western Colorado Research Center annual report article in 2013, a PowerPoint presentation that will be used by various presenters including growers, the technical advisor and other professionals, a large format poster to be available for posting at various public meetings, and field tours during summer 2011, 2012 and 2013 so attendees can see the winter peas growing under field conditions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The major objective of this three-year research/demonstration project is to develop a continuous winter wheat/winter pea cropping system in NW Colorado. A secondary objective is to evaluate additional alternative crops that could be grown to further diversify crop production in NW Colorado. These additional crops are oilseed crops. The three oilseed crops that will be evaluated are winter canola, winter camelina and flax. Lupine will also be evaluated for its potential in the region.

    Winter peas will be tested in large plots (50 acres) at two sites (Craig - 13-inch precip, 115-day growing season and Hayden - 17-inch precip, 90-day growing season). Clay loam soils are the major soil type in both locations. Embedded in each large plot will be small test plots of different varieties of winter peas. Small test plots will be used to evaluate the four alternative crops at one location.

    2011 - obtain seed, prepare plot plans, check equipment, plant winter peas and oilseed crops in late September.

    2012 - make presentation at grower meeting held during January. Field tour during July. Harvest during August. Plant winter peas and oilseed crops in late September. Analyze and summarize data during fall. Prepare reports and articles.

    2013 - make presentation at grower meeting held during January. Field tour during July. Harvest during August. Analyze and summarize data during fall. Prepare final reports and articles.

    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.