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With Low Commodity Prices, Farmers Should Consider Alternative Crops

September 29, 2014

Market dynamics have shifted commodity prices from the highs seen in 2012 to projected prices for corn hitting a bottom of 3.00-3.25 per bushel at harvest. Bean prices are also projected to continue falling. With changes in the overall supply chain for corn and beans worldwide, it is unlikely that we will see a significant price recovery for corn and beans in the near future. To help manage the risks of low prices, Perry County farmers should consider alternatives to traditional commercial corn and soybean production. Marginal ground that was taken from hayfield use should be returned to hayfield use as prices drop. Better quality ground can be repurposed for crops offering a higher return.

One potential crop that has been discussed lately in agricultural publications is alfalfa. With the increase in corn and soybean acres planted, the number of acres in alfalfa dropped, increasing the price. While corn and soybean prices are falling, alfalfa prices are still high.  Alfalfa is a perennial crop that can be expected to last about 5 years after seeding in Indiana with 4-5 cuttings per year, primarily for hay or haylage. It requires well-drained soil and can be planted in early spring or late summer. First harvest can occur 70-90 days after emergence. Average alfalfa yields are around 3 tons/acre while well-managed alfalfa can produce upwards of 6 tons per acre per year.  As a legume, alfalfa fixes nitrogen, so does not usually require nitrogen supplementation, however it likes a neutral pH and does require phosphate and potash, and boron. When a stand thins, it should not be re-seeded on itself. Instead rotation with corn or milo should be considered. Quality is key to price. Alfalfa is in demand by dairy farmers and race and show horse farms. All of these farms require alfalfa that is clean and weed-free (some will accept a mix with orchard grass or timothy).  The relative feed quality value required differs according to the type of operation. Do your market research to determine how best to manage your alfalfa crop.

If alfalfa is not right for your operation, consider replacing commodity corn with a specialty corn such as popcorn, white corn, or high oil corn and commodity soybeans with tofu beans, or low saturated fat beans. Other alternative crop options include milo (sorghum), dry edible beans, sunflower, and pearl millet. As a producer you should evaluate your  land, equipment, and time . In some cases, if you are losing money on commodity corn and beans, it may be most economical to convert fields to pasture or grass hay to take advantage of strong livestock markets. 

Resources:

Purdue Center for Commercial Ag

http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/agr/agr76/agr76.htm

https://www.agronomy.org/files/publications/alfalfa-management-guide.pdf

https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ec/ec-714.pdf

 

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