Development of Sustainable Cropping Systems for New York Cash Crop Producers

1994 Annual Report for LNE94-051

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $100,789.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
William J. Cox
Cornell University

Development of Sustainable Cropping Systems for New York Cash Crop Producers

Summary

Key Findings
Field-scale demonstrations with farmers performing all field operations demonstrated that soybean-corn or soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotations can enhance corn yields, allow reduced pesticide use, and improve farm profitability compared to continuous corn.

More specifically, the project showed that:
• soybean-wheat/clover-corn or soybean-corn rotations compared with a continuous corn rotation increases corn yields by 10 percent while using 100 percent less insecticide, 60 percent less herbicide, and 25 percent less fertilizer nitrogen;
• rotated corn had a greater net return ($120/acre) compared to continuous corn ($44/acre) because of higher yields and lower pesticide and fertilizer costs ($81 and $122/acre, respectively);
• the soybean-corn rotation had greater net returns ($88/acre) compared with continuous corn because of the much greater net return for rotated corn and slightly higher net return for soybean when compared with continuous corn; and
• without harvesting and marketing wheat straw, the soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotation had the same net return as the continuous corn. If we marketed the straw, which most wheat growers do, we would have received an additional $75/acre net return to the wheat crop and thus an additional $25/acre net return to the soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotation.

Objectives
1.To inform New York cash crop producers and the related agricultural industry about the need for sustainable cropping systems and to recommend the adoption of economically viable cash-crop farming systems that minimize chemical inputs and maintain soil and water quality.
2.To help New York cash crop producers develop sustainable cropping systems that increase small grain and soybean acreage and reduce corn acreage in their cropping systems.
3.To identify the best sequence of crops in a sustainable cropping system for New York cash crop producers that maximizes profit and is environmentally compatible through the minimization of chemical inputs.

Findings and Results
The goal of this study was to demonstrate to New York grain producers that soybean-corn or soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotations under reduced inputs (banded herbicides plus cultivation and about 100 lbs. N/acre) compared with a continuous corn rotation under full inputs (soil insecticide, broadcast herbicides, and about 140 lbs. N/acre) enhance corn yields and improve farm profitability.

Field-scale demonstrations with participating farmers performing all field operations were established on four cash grain farms in New York in 1993.

Corn: When averaged across years (1994 to 1996) and sites, corn in the soybean-wheat/clover-corn and soybean-corn rotations compared with continuous corn yielded about 10 percent more (141, 139, and 127 bu/acre, respectively). Corn yielded higher in eight of 12 site-year comparisons in the soybean-wheat/clover corn rotation and in seven of the 12 site-year comparisons in the soybean-corn rotation when compared with the continuous corn rotation.

The major challenges where corn did not respond positively to rotations were adequate corn stand establishment and weed control in the soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotation and adequate N fertility in the soybean-corn rotation. Nevertheless, we successfully demonstrated that soybean-wheat/clover-corn or soybean-corn rotations compared with a continuous corn rotation increases corn yields by 10 percent while using 100 percent less insecticide, 60 percent less herbicide, and 25 percent less fertilizer N.

Wheat: When averaged across years and sites, wheat yielded 55 bu/acre in the soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotation and soybeans yielded 47 bu/acre in the soybean-wheat/clover-corn and soybean-corn rotations.
Soybeans: The soybean crop had an averaged net return of $56/acre, whereas the wheat crop had a $-33/acre net return, partly because of the clover seed costs ($25/acre). Rotated corn had a greater net return ($120/acre) compared with continuous corn ($44/acre) because of higher yields and lower pesticide and fertilizer costs ($81 and $122/acre, respectively). Consequently, the soybean-corn rotation had greater net returns ($88/acre) compared with continuous corn because of the much greater net return for rotated corn and slightly higher net return for soybean when compared with continuous corn.
The soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotation, however, had the same net return ($49/acre) as the continuous corn rotation because of the negative net return of wheat. The harvesting and marketing of wheat straw, which most wheat growers do, would add an additional $75/acre net return to the wheat crop and thus an additional $25/acre net return to the soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotation. Unfortunately, we were not able to measure straw yields accurately in our demonstration.

A detailed discussion of the crop yields, production costs, economic returns and management issues for each site for each year is available through Northeast Region SARE.

Site Information
In Cayuga Co., the field demonstration is on Vaill Acres in the Finger Lakes Region of NY. Norm Vaill farms about 550 total acres of which 400 acres are corn, 100 acres are soybeans, 25 acres are hay, and 25 acres are wheat. Norm grows most of his corn and sunflowers under a ridge tillage system that features banded herbicides with timely cultivation(s) for the weed control program.

In Orleans Co., the field demonstration is on the 1,500-acre Roberts Brothers farm in Medina. In most years, about 800 acres are planted to corn, 200 acres to soybeans, 300 acres to wheat, and 200 acres to peas.
In Seneca Co., the field demonstration is located on Doug Freier’s 1,200-acre farm near Geneva. About 400 acres are planted to corn, 400 acres to beans, 200 acres to wheat, 200 acres to hay, and 100 acres to peas.
In Yates Co., the field demonstration is located on Larry Anderson’s 250-acre farm near Penn Yann. About 175 acres are planted to corn and 75 acres planted to soybeans.

Input Reduction
We can illustrate the benefits of crop rotation to the environment of soybean, and 150 acres of wheat, based on current NY crop acreage. With this acreage distribution, only 275 acres of corn follows soybean or wheat so there are 250 acres of non-rotated corn.

If cash croppers adopt more diverse rotations, the environmental benefits could be substantial. For example, eliminating about 250 acres of continuous corn and substituting about 250 acres of soybeans would eliminate 37,500 lbs of fertilizer N on continuous corn (250 acres of non-rotated corn x 150 lbs N/acre). Also, the substituted 250 acres of soybeans would not require the soil applied insecticide (1 lb/acre) for CRW control on non-rotated corn for a savings of 250 lbs of insecticide.

Dissemination of Findings
A county extension newsletter, entitled “Rotated Corn Can Enhance Corn Yields with Less Inputs,” was distributed statewide in March of 1997 describing the importance of crop rotation in sustainable cropping systems. Also, we contributed an article to Country Folks, a weekly farm newspaper, in the New York Corn Growers section in November.

Practical Applications
The results of our demonstration appear to have already had an impact. In 1993, 56,000 acres of soybeans were produced in New York. In 1997, soybean acreage almost doubled to 107,000 acres. This represents a potential reduction of 50,000 acres of continuous corn in New York. Also, wheat acreage increased from 95,000 to 135,000 acres in New York. This represents another potential reduction of 40,000 acres of continuous corn. The reduction of continuous corn in New York should also reduce pesticide and N fertilizer use significantly.

Operational Recommendations
We recommend that New York cash grain producers allocate two-thirds of their land area to a soybean-corn rotation and one-third of the land area to a soybean-wheat/clover-corn rotation. Also, growers can reduce herbicide use by banding herbicides at planting, followed by a timely cultivation(s) for weed control.
Reported January 1998.