Double-cropping soybeans, wheat increases farm productivity

Linda Benedict, Paxton, Kenneth W., Ferguson, Robert E., Boquet, Donald J.  |  7/27/2011 9:33:12 PM

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Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Soybeans are in the background, and wheat is in the foreground. (Photo by John Chaney)

Kenneth W. Paxton, Donald J. Boquet and Robert E. Ferguson

The double-cropping of soybeans and wheat has become an increasingly attractive option economically for Louisiana farmers because of technological improvements, and about 85 percent of Louisiana wheat acres are double-cropped with soybeans. The LSU AgCenter has conducted a number of studies over the years examining this system.

From 2001 to 2009, a long-term analysis of the profit potential of a soybean/wheat double-crop was compared to a monocrop system. This study was conducted at the Macon Ridge Research Station in Winnsboro, La. At the start of the experiment, the field was prepared for planting the initial wheat crop. No other tillage was used during the experiment, except beds were periodically reshaped after fall harvest, if needed. The field was uniformly limed and fertilized each spring according to soil tests and recommended practices. The wheat crop was fertilized with nitrogen each year in mid-February. The summer soybeans were furrow-irrigated as needed to maintain adequate soil moisture for optimal crop development.

Wheat was planted in early to mid-November each year, and soybeans were planted immediately following wheat harvest, generally in mid-May. Monocrop soybeans were generally planted in late April or early May. Although the varieties planted changed over the life of the experiment, they were always recommended varieties for the area. Weed and insect control was based on systematic field scouting, and control measures followed recommended practices.

To assess profitability, enterprise budgets were developed for each system. For purposes of this analysis, costs were held constant at 2009 levels, and income was evaluated based on each year’s crop yields and the annual average market prices for soybeans and wheat. While input prices have trended up over time, there was not as much variability in production costs as in returns. Yield differences and crop price volatility from year to year contribute to much more variability in returns than does variability in input costs for agricultural commodities. Further, because fixed costs differ little between the two production systems, only variable costs are considered here.

Soybean yields from the monocrop and double-crop systems are shown in Figure 1. The line depicting yields from the monocrop system (F/SB) is above the double-crop line (WG/SB). The difference in yield over the life of the experiment averaged about 3.6 bushels per acre. Although the double-crop soybeans had lower average yields, this system also had additional income from the wheat crop. As shown in Figure 2, wheat yields ranged from about 40 to almost 80 bushels per acre and averaged 58 bushels per acre from 2002 through 2009.

Figure 3 shows the returns above variable costs for the two systems over the life of the experiment. For most of the years, the double-crop system produced higher net returns than soybeans alone. Over the life of the experiment, the double-crop system net returns were $58.89 per acre higher than the monocrop soybeans. Based on this analysis, double cropping soybeans and wheat could add significantly to a producer’s net income.

Although this analysis assumes commercial-size equipment to simulate a farm-scale analysis based on research plot data, some important characteristics of commercial farming are not included. This analysis implicitly assumes adequate labor and equipment to accomplish all the required production practices. In actual farming situations, labor and equipment are not unlimited, and labor availability may impose limitations on the amount of a double-crop enterprise a farm may conduct. In addition, it is important to note that these research results were obtained using irrigation for soybeans. Irrigation is usually needed for consistent success with double-cropping, and restrictions in water availability could drastically alter the results.

Kenneth W. Paxton, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.; Donald J. Boquet, Professor, Macon Ridge Research Station, Winnsboro, La.; and Robert E. Ferguson, Assistant County Agent, Dean Lee Research Station, Alexandria, La.

(This article was published in the spring 2011 issue of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.)

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