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Date: Wed, 27 Mar 1996 11:12:05 -0600
To: [headers pruned]
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Bob Cooney)
Subject: WICST Cropping Trials Results
For Immediate Release
For More Information:
DIVERSE CROPPING SYSTEMS OUTPERFORMING CONTINUOUS CORN IN WICST
After four years, corn-soybean-wheat/red clover system gaining on
corn-soybean system in Wisconsin trials
By George Gallepp, CALS Agricultural and Consumer Press Service
If farmers who plant corn annually in the same fields would include
other crops in a rotation while relying less on farm chemicals and more on
other management techniques, they might be more profitable and productive,
according to a continuing study at two southern Wisconsin sites.
The Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) compares
three cropping systems: continuous corn, which uses chemicals routinely to
control pests and maintain fertility; corn-soybean, a system that uses
fewer chemicals; and corn-soybean-wheat/red clover, a near-organic system
that only uses chemicals if crops will be lost.
Averaged over 1992 to 1995, the results show that the
reduced-input corn-soybean system was the most profitable of the three
cash-grain systems, according to Rick Klemme, a University of
Wisconsin-Madison agricultural economist with WICST. "The very-low-input
corn-soybean-wheat/red clover system was almost as profitable over the four
years as the corn-soybean system, and the most profitable the last two
years," Klemme says.
Data for the study come from field-sized plots at the UW-Madison's
Arlington Agricultural Research Station in Columbia County and the Lakeland
Agricultural Complex in Walworth County.
At Arlington, the average gross margins over the four years were
$199 for corn-soybean, $194 for corn-soybean-wheat/red clover and $148 per
acre for continuous corn. The average corn yields were 160, 133 and 147
bushels per acre, respectively.
At Lakeland, the average gross margins over the four years were $208
for corn-soybean, $196 for corn-soybean-wheat/red clover and $154 per acre
for continuous corn. The average corn yields were 140, 117 and 137 bushels
per acre, respectively.
"For comparison, gross margins of $150 to $250 per acre are
considered good," Klemme says. "Corn and soybean farmers need to maintain
gross margins at or above $200 per acre to be profitable."
A coalition of scientists from the College of Agricultural and Life
Sciences, Cooperative Extension, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
and farmers near the two sites created WICST in 1989 to study the
profitability, productivity and environmental impact of entire cropping
The three cropping systems were analyzed by traditional enterprise
accounting methods. Gross margins are gross returns (the market value of
the crops at harvest) minus variable costs, which included seed,
fertilizer, pesticides, custom operations, leased equipment, fuel, repairs,
interest and grain drying.
The farmer participants advised the researchers to analyze the
results assuming that the federal crop commodity programs would be
eliminated in the near future. Therefore, the gross margins were
calculated without commodity payments.
To compare the gross margins per acre in WICST to those of farmers
in the federal program, farmers would add about $50 per acre to the
continuous corn results, $25 per acre to the corn-soybean results, and $17
per acre to the corn-soybean-wheat/red clover figures. Although these
commodity payments bring the results much closer together, they do not
change the profitability rankings, Klemme says.
The farmer participants also suggested that the researchers not use
organic price premiums on the very-low-input system. These premiums would
offset much of the gain continuous corn would receive from commodity
programs. In the last two years, the corn-soybean-wheat/red clover system
has been virtually organic. The premium for organic would amount to about
15 percent, with higher percentages possible given the right economic
The results over the past four years show that diversified cropping
systems with reduced chemical inputs are more profitable that the high-
input monoculture system, says UW-Madison agronomist Josh Posner, the
Crops during the four-year period experienced a range of weather
conditions, with two relatively poor crop years followed by two better
years. The 1992 growing season featured the Fathers Day frost, while 1993
had an extraordinarily wet spring that brought low yields and high drying
costs in fall. In 1994, the weather was nearly perfect, yields reached
record levels, but grain prices were low. Last year featured a very hot
summer, solid yields and strong prices.
Despite the variability, the WICST group has seen several noteworthy
trends, according to Posner.
* Although continuous corn often produces relatively high yields, its
direct costs per acre were always the highest. The high production costs
consume a major share of this systems returns, usually leaving it the least
profitable system in the trials.
* The corn-soybean system has been the most profitable over four years. It
usually has the highest corn yields.
* The corn-soybean-wheat/red clover cropping system has been the most
profitable the last two years. Klemme says a good wheat crop is crucial to
the financial success of this cropping system.
Each of the cropping systems improved in performance during 1992 to
1995, mainly because of weather and price changes. However, the yields and
gross margins in the nearly organic corn-soybean-wheat/red clover system
improved more dramatically than the others.
"That increase in profitability also reflects improvements in the
abilities of the farm managers at the two WICST sites to implement
practices such as mechanical weed control," says Posner. "Weed populations
appear to have stabilized and yields have increased significantly since the
first two years."
"We think that the improvement in profitability in the
very-low-input system suggests that the most difficult part of the
transition to organic is behind us," says Klemme.
Klemme and Posner are not sure if the cropping systems are at
equilibrium yet, or if the management of the crops will continue to
improve. Only time will tell. The WICST program is scheduled to run
# # #
Writer: George Gallepp 608-262-3636
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications and outreach
Center for Integrated Ag Systems/Ag Technology and Family Farm Institute
UW-Madison--1450 Linden Drive 146 Madison, WI 53706
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Mightier than the sword they say
Who've never seen the pen at Shea.