Dwayne Beck, self-described farmer first and researcher second, preaches the gospel of longer, more diverse crop rotations wherever he goes.
As a South Dakota State University agronomist, manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm at Pierre, SD, and acknowledged no-till guru of the Great Plains, he has good ammunition for his arguments.
Because the Soybean Belt is exploding westward to drier areas, don't even talk to Beck about conventional tillage. Nor about raising soybeans after soybeans or just the two-crop rotation of corn and soybeans that rules in states farther east.
Beck's bottom-line goal: To develop longer, workable and profitable crop rotations that include soybeans for the Wheat Belt.
"We're going to see soybeans or some other broadleaf crop used as a complement to wheat and corn in rotations," says Beck. "Examples might include sunflowers, canola and the pulse crops, such as chickpeas, lentils and dry, edible beans.
"The Wheat Belt is going to raise corn and soybeans and other crop choices to produce longer and more diverse rotations, which have many advantages. This is going to happen from parts of Texas up to the Canadian prairies."
Though moisture is much more limited, cheaper land costs, combined with no-till and longer crop rotations, will give this area an advantage over the traditional corn-soybean rotation area. Why? Because of the difficulty of coming up with a third or fourth crop in the rotation that will cover the higher land and tax costs there and still produce a profit.
Yield advantages for both crops when rotating corn and soybeans vs. continuous corn or soybeans, in thetraditional Corn Belt have been well-documented. It holds for the Wheat Belt, too. But as a start for greater diversity, a three-crop rotation is better than two, Beck insists.
Besides the yield advantages for each crop in the rotation, Beck claims more crop types mean more diversity. And that spreads risk, reduces disease, and allows use of various herbicide rotations to manage weed populations and prevent weed resistance. It manages workloads more effectively and creates good seedbeds for subsequent crops under no-till.
The yield advantages for crop rotation are well-documented in North Dakota research as well, according to Duane Berglund, North Dakota State University extension agronomist.
"In eight years of crop rotation field trials at Fargo, average yield of continuous-cropped spring wheat was 31 bu/acre, while wheat yielded 35 bu/acre following barley, 40 bu/acre following sunflowers and 42 bu/acre following sugar beets," says Berglund. "But wheat following soybeans yielded 45 bu/acre. Soybeans have proved to be an excellent choice to include in the rotation in eastern North Dakota."
Obviously, you can't afford to grow a crop that is agronomically advantageous in the rotation if there isn't a market and reasonable rate of return, Beck says. But, he adds, finding those markets, which in some cases are speciality markets, is part of the management challenge.
In the end, however, if you lick that challenge, you're going to be better off in virtually all aspects - including the all-important net profit angle.