Ohio Growers Looking to Double Profits with One System

October 29, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Based on historically high futures market prices of wheat and soybeans, Ohio growers may try to grab double the profits with one production system.

Jim Beuerlein, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist, said that double cropping and relay intercropping systems might increase throughout the state next season. Historically high futures prices of $6.75 per bushel for wheat and $9.40 per bushel for soybeans are being driven by low inventories and the market's desire to increase plantings.

"I'm expecting to see an increase in both double cropping and relay intercropping, with double cropping being practiced south of Columbus, and relay intercropping being practiced north of Columbus," said Beuerlein, who also holds an Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center appointment. "Those two crops can have fairly low yields, but still make tremendous profits when both are grown at the same time."

Double cropping is the process of planting soybeans following wheat harvest in the same field. Relay intercropping involves planting soybeans between 15-inch row wheat rows a month before the wheat is harvested. Relay intercropping is more suited for northern counties because of the shorter growing season.

Beuerlein said that if the growing season cooperates, profits generated from the two-crop systems have the potential to rival that of a high-yield corn crop.

"Typically you end up with about 85 percent to 90 percent wheat yields and about 30 percent to 40 percent soybean yields. When you are talking about wheat prices at $6 and soybean prices at $9, with 80 bushel wheat and 20-25 bushel soybeans, that's equivalent to about a 200 bushel corn yield," said Beuerlein. "That's big money off just an acre."

Double cropping and relay intercropping may turn big profits, but it takes careful management to make either system work to its full potential.

"You need soils, mainly silt loam soils, that supply a lot of water, and you need a lot of rain," said Beuerlein. "Water is the limiting factor for either system."

Beuerlein said that little change is required in production practices with double cropping, with the exception of planting early-to-medium maturity wheat varieties to get the wheat off early and plant soybeans as soon as possible. Production of relay intercropping, however, takes a bit more work.

"Growers need to increase seeding rates, usually 30 percent to 50 percent higher depending on where they are and when they are planting," said Beuerlein. "And since you are working in 15-inch rows, all of the equipment needs to match, something called controlled traffic."

Currently, about 10 percent of Ohio's growers are either practicing double cropping or relay intercropping, or have tried the systems in the past. That number is expected to increase next year.

"Normally, with $6 soybeans you have to have at least 20 bushels to make a profit. Now with the high prices, you only need about 8 or 10 bushels of soybeans to just break even," said Beuerlein. "If you get plenty of water, the potential is there to make big bucks, and growers are going to give it a try."

OSU Extension covers double cropping and relay intercropping in its Ohio Agronomy Guide. Log on to http://ohioline.osu.edu/b472/index.html for more information.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Jim Beuerlein