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Author: Spencer Herbert, Conservation Manager, Truterra
This past July, the USDA expanded double crop insurance opportunities in more than 1,500 counties where double cropping is viable.
The hope is to lessen risk for raising two crops in the same year to encourage adoption of the practice and drive increased production. The program, from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), specifically supports soybeans and grain sorghum or milo, as some call it.
For soybeans, double crop coverage was expanded to, or streamlined in, at least 681 counties. Where available, coverage spread north and west from its usual availability on the East Coast and into the Delta region. Now its reach almost covers the entirety of the country, from the southern tip of Texas to the northernmost parts of Minnesota.
For grain sorghum, double crop coverage was expanded to, or streamlined in, at least 870 counties. This creates a significantly expanded geographic footprint that had formerly been contained to the southeast states and southern tip of Illinois.
Considerations for Double Cropping
As with any conservation management practice, there is a long list of considerations to take into account when building a plan for double cropping. The good news is that the list of sustainability benefits is abundant.
One of the first details to iron out is getting the right equipment to manage both crops. Whether you decide to buy a new piece of equipment or bring in a custom applicator will have an obvious impact on how you’ll calculate ROI.
Another key consideration is your herbicide program. Double cropping can provide better weed control than solely relying on crop protection inputs, but it also complicates matters. It creates the need for farmers to use different herbicide modes of action and pay specific attention to residual herbicides. When looking at double crop fields, you need to plan 3-6 months ahead for weed control to ensure a herbicide application does not get in the way of planting a second crop.
Double cropping can help farmers better utilize existing moisture in their fields. In wet years, it can help get rid of excess moister faster. As a result, equipment can get into the field faster. In dry years, double cropping can help provide more moisture by shading soil from the sun.
Seed selection and placement is a key component for success in a double cropping system. A recent Double Crop Soybean Production Guide produced by The Ohio State University highlights some of the key management considerations that can help optimize outputs. This includes finding the right seeding rate and selecting the best maturity group.
Overcoming Obstacles to Unveil Opportunity
While the move by the USDA aims to lessen the risk associated with double cropping and the paperwork that goes along with it, the financial gains associated with this practice are a complicated matter. In many cases, there are challenges that are out of a farmer’s control that can spoil even the best of intentions to double crop or diminish the ROI beyond practicality.
From a commodity standpoint, double cropping is more common among wheat growers. From an irrigation standpoint, it’s most commonly done in fields with pivots. The recent drought and dry conditions have wreaked havoc for a wide range of reasons, making it tough to get a payoff from double cropping. This caused some to abandon plans for double cropping ahead of the fall season.
Despite recent conditions that have complicated double cropping plans, there are some definite benefits that make the extra work worthwhile. Aside from hopefully adding bushels to the bin or increasing land for grazing, the potential agronomic benefits of disease and weed control, increased soil health and improved water management all build a case for planting two crops in one year when the opportunity presents itself.
Where Do We See It Going From Here?One of the key obstacles for the industry to overcome when it comes to double cropping is that the practice itself challenges some of the conventional farming wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation. Some think it is not sustainable and that it does not give the soil time to rest and recover.
As a conservation manager at Truterra, Herbert builds opportunities for retailers and growers by equipping them with the funding, partnerships and programming they need to be successful. Prior to his current role at Truterra, he spent four years helping retailers and growers implement conservation practices. Before joining Truterra, Herbert worked in soil and water conservation. He earned his Bachelor's degree from Iowa State University in Agronomy & Environmental Science.
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