It's almost heresy to suggest that there's something better than a corn/soybean rotation in the Corn Belt. However, Bow Valley, NE, farmer Tim Nissen suggests you try oats and turnips.

Nissen found that his crop and cattle operation is more profitable when he drops soybeans from the rotation and adds oats and/or turnips.

His records showed his cow/calf operation brought in more money than soybeans. So he dropped soybeans and added other crops for forage to expand his cowherd.

“It cost me $155 to grow an acre of soybeans with a projected profit of $21, figuring the historical farm yield of 35 bu at a loan rate of $5.02,” he says. “With oats and turnips my costs are less, $140/acre, and the return is more than double soybeans at $47.50. That includes income from grain, straw and grazing.”

There are more profit opportunities with a small-grain and vegetable rotation, Nissen says. “With soybeans, you've got one crop to sell. If it's a bad year, there's really not much you can do to improve your gross sales,” he says. “With oats, I'm able to graze it, hay it, harvest it for grain and sell the straw. I've found a good market for the oats in the hobby horse market.”

Nissen primarily uses oats and turnips as temporary pasture to fill in the holes when his native pastures need a rest.

If he wants only temporary fall forage, he plants oats alone in the spring, harvests the grain and straw, then overseeds turnips in August in time for fall rains to bring the crop up. “I think it would work with wheat stubble also,” he points out. I've used a lot of different combinations. Sometimes I just plant oats and come back with turnips. Or I plant oats and turnips together and harvest some grain and leave other acres for grazing. I've also thought about air seeding turnip seed into standing Roundup Ready corn.

“I sit down every spring and figure out if or when I will be short of grass,” he says. “That window is typically July and August for cool-season pasture and early spring and late fall for warm-season pasture. I plan to have turnips ready for that window.”

Nissen is quick to point out that his program won't appeal to all farmers. But with 300 acres of crop ground and 200 acres of pasture, he has to work his land hard for profits by doing what other farmers won't. His new cropping scheme allowed him to expand his cowherd from 70 to 90 head, and he can still add more.

“If you're farming 5,000 acres, this isn't for you,” he says. “But I can't compete on the same playing field with that farmer, so I need to do something he's not interested in.”

He discovered the oats/turnips program almost by accident. In 1999, his soybean crop was hailed out and he was looking for something to plant for forage. His extension agent suggested oats and turnips

“It was an eye-opening experience,” he says. “I got 45 days of grazing for 70 head of cattle off 70 acres of ground. They would have grazed longer, but it snowed.”

Oats and turnips aren't the only crops that will net more than soybeans. It's not the crop, but the idea of trying something different that farmers need to understand, he says.

The Nebraska farmer is already looking at other income opportunities to bolster his income. “If you can find the market, you can do it,” he says. He's done it once and intends to do it again.