US Asks Farmers: Can You Grow 2 Crops Instead of 1?

Farmland is limited in the United States. When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last spring sparked fears people were starving because wheat was stuck in blocked ports, US farmers could do little to meet the new demand.

but that can change.

Earlier this summer, the US Department of Agriculture introduced new guidelines to encourage American farmers to grow two crops back-to-back on one piece of land, a practice known as dual cropping. By changing insurance rules to reduce the risk of growing two crops, the USDA hopes to significantly increase the amount of wheat US farmers could plant each year, reduce reliance on major wheat producers like Ukraine and Russia, and to eliminate bottlenecks.

The idea is an intriguing development from the Ukraine war that hasn’t received widespread attention. As fall approaches, it’s unclear how many farmers will actually try the new system, but some already growing two crops say farmers should consider it.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Illinois farmer Jeff O’Connor, who has been dual cropping for years and hosted President Joe Biden at an event in May to promote efforts to increase food production. “I don’t know how successful it will be.”

Though the effort has met with only modest success, farming groups are hoping to find new ways to meet growing global demand for food while making more profit for farmers despite high fertilizer and fuel costs. As Andrew Larson of the Illinois Soybean Association put it, “It removes some of the hurdles and offers a lot more flexibility.”

In 2020, the US exported $6.3 billion worth of wheat. The US, along with Russia, Australia and Canada, usually leads the world in wheat exports, with Ukraine usually ranking fifth, although its shipments are set to fall this year due to the war.

Dual crops are not new in parts of the South and southern Midwest, which have the distinct advantage of longer growing seasons. These warmer temperatures allow farmers to plant one crop – typically winter wheat – in the fall, which dormant over the winter and then grow and can be harvested in late spring, just as farmers plant a second crop – typically soybeans.

The problem occurs when cool weather delays the spring harvest of wheat, which in turn delays soybean planting. And this is where the USDA’s new effort could mitigate the risk of a costly replacement planting.

The USDA’s Risk Management Agency would streamline crop insurance approvals for farmers growing a second crop in more than 1,500 counties where dual cropping seems practicable. The agency would also work with crop insurers and farming groups to encourage greater availability of coverage in other counties.

Announcing its efforts, the USDA said it aims to “stabilize food prices and feed Americans and the world amid ongoing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The USDA hasn’t mentioned climate change, but the agency and other experts have long said warming temperatures will spur farmers to reconsider what they grow and how.

The new program focuses more on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is a leading supplier of wheat to people in Africa and the Middle East. After the invasion, wheat prices almost doubled to over $12 a bushel, although prices have steadily fallen since then as supply worries eased, in part due to deals that allowed wheat to be exported from Ukraine.

The USDA didn’t respond to a request for details about how many farmers the agency hopes to start twin-growing or how much U.S. production could increase.

Farmers doing dual crops often have smaller crops, but two smaller crops would still be significantly larger than a single crop.

A study published in August by the University of Illinois and Ohio State University found that was certainly the case this year, as high wheat prices meant that dual-farmed land in southern Illinois had a projected return of $251 per acre for Wheat and soybeans yielded $81 higher than a standalone soybean crop. The benefit of the double harvest has been less dramatic in other parts of the state and could be smaller if wheat prices fall.

Mark Lehenbauer, who raises cattle and grows row crops near Palmyra, Missouri, said he’s been doing dual cropping for years and finds it reliably profitable. Still, he cautions that there is a year-long learning curve in which farmers learn how to complete the task of growing one crop while they must harvest another.

And Lehenbauer acknowledged that many farmers may simply be reluctant to take on the extra risk or workload.

“There are many additional steps in it,” said Lehenbauer. “It adds some complexity.”

Ultimately, the biggest factor in whether farmers start planting an additional crop of wheat is the price they can fetch for the crop, said Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. Although prices fell from their highs shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they remain at the still-profitable level of nearly $8 a bushel.

“It really depends on where wheat prices are headed going forward,” he said. “Despite the observed price drop, wheat prices are quite high, so next year there should be a little more incentive to double-crop wheat than there has been so far.”

AP US Asks Farmers: Can You Grow 2 Crops Instead of 1?

Fry Electronics Team

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