Agronomic and Economic Analyses of Alternative Small Grain/Row Crop Production Systems for the Northern Plains
To generate an economic analyses of the transition form conventional to low-input agricultural
systems using data from the first four years of experiment station trials.
Two studies were included in this report to represent different sets of crop combinations and
rotations. Farming Systems Study I (FFSI) emphasized row crops and included Alternative,
Conventional, and Ridge Till rotations. In Farming Systems Study II (FSSII), three systems with
emphasis on small grains were compared. Yields, cultural practices, and baseline economic data
from the years 1985-1988 were used to make the comparisons in both studies.
In general, the results indicated that the systems within each study had similar yields during most
years. There were some exceptions, including the low average yields during the 4-year period for
the alternative system corn in Study I and for Minimum Till barley in Study II. Yields for all
systems were significantly lower in 1988 than in the three previous years due to drought
conditions. However, yields for alternative system corn were significantly greater in 1988 than
for the conventional system in Study I.
In the Farming Systems Study I, the alternative system produced the lowest "gross income"
during the first three years of the study period when compared with the conventional and ridge
till systems. However, during the 1988 drought year, "gross income" for the alternative system
was significantly higher than for the two other systems. One contributing factor was higher per
bushel yields of corn, and another was the drought-induced alfalfa prices. In the Farming
Systems Study II, the alternative system again showed the lowest "gross income" from
1985-1987. The conventional system produced the highest "gross income" in the first three
years, and tied with minimum till in 1986. The alternative system again produced the highest
"gross income" per acre under 1988's drought conditions, followed by minimum till and then
The alternative system had significantly lower direct costs (other than labor) than the other two
systems during the 4-year period. The conventional system ranked second every year except
1985, and minimum till had the highest direct costs each year except 1985, when it was second
to the alternative system.
"Net income" on a whole farm basis, assuming 540 tillable acres, declined in absolute terms in
1988 for all the systems, due to drought conditions. However, the alternative system in FSSI
produced a positive "net income" every year, which was not the case for conventional and ridge
till systems. Those systems experienced significant losses in 1988, causing the conventional
system to drop from its number one position as most profitable. In FSSII, the alternative system
experienced a slight loss in 1985, while the conventional and minimum till systems showed
profits from 1985-1987. All systems except the alternative system showed net losses for 1988.
The alternative system was roughly a break-even operation in 1988, after achieving the highest
"net income" in 1987.