New cropping options: Risk and opportunity
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- Many producers succeed when trying new cropping options, but many also fail
- Make sure to consider all aspects of growing a new crop, including supply and demand, marketability of the crop and economics
- Before deciding on new cropping options, talk with marketers, agronomic experts and other producers
As an agrologist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture for 33 years – eight of them on special crops – Dale Risula has seen producers succeed with new cropping options, but he has also seen failures.
Consider all growing factors
“I think the biggest mistake is that people don’t take all aspects of growing a new crop into account,” Risula says. No matter the region of the nation, the list of considerations is long: equipment needs, suitability of the land base, marketability of the crop, supply and demand factors, the timing of seeding and harvest, input costs, weed control, disease considerations and of course, economics.
“When is the last time you tried a new crop? Was it a good experience or did you regret the decision? Is that crop still part of your rotation?”
What are realistic yield and price expectations? After the expenses are paid, how will returns stack up?
“You should also gauge the desire of all those involved in the operation to go along with a new crop,” Risula advises. “If everyone isn’t on the same page, this could lead to dissention.”
Perform market research
In the last few years, soybean acreage has exploded in Manitoba, with more than 1.3 million acres in 2015. This is a major world crop with lots of agronomic information and a highly visible marketing system. Seed supply companies are investing heavily to develop varieties that should make the crop increasingly viable in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Contrast soybeans with crops like hemp, quinoa and faba beans on the Prairies, and ginseng and adzuki beans in central Canada where the acreage, markets and research dollars are much more limited. This doesn’t mean minor crops are a bad idea for your farm, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting into.
Markets and agronomics change over time. The market for hemp seed is much more developed than it was a decade ago and producers are now concentrating on seed production rather than fibre. At the same time, acreage has shifted from Manitoba to Saskatchewan. In 2015, Saskatchewan had an estimated 50,000 acres compared to only 7,000 in Manitoba.
The popularity of soybeans in Manitoba has cut into the acreage of dry beans. Risula wonders if that might mean an opportunity for dry beans on dryland in Saskatchewan.
Some crops start small and become widely adopted. From a few thousand acres in the mid-1970s, lentils were grown on 3.6 million acres in Saskatchewan last year. It started with green lentils, but now red lentils are king.
Other crops such as coriander are unlikely to grow past a small acreage because the market is limited. Overproduction can lead to low prices and delayed sales opportunities.
Whatever cropping options you explore, the best advice is to do your homework. Get all your questions addressed by talking with marketers, agronomic experts and especially other producers.