By Matthew Wilde, ISA Senior Writer and 2018 First Place “On-Farm Production” Writing Category Winner
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of the “Story Behind the Story” series featuring first place 2018 AAEA Communication award winners. Click here to read the full award winning article.
After several years of low commodity prices and razor-thin or nonexistent margins, grain farmers are looking for ways to squeeze every penny out of every acre.
The Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) goal is to improve the competitiveness of the state’s soybean farmers.
That was the motivation behind the story, “Seeing Double,” published in the December 2017 edition of the Iowa Soybean Review magazine and other ISA communication channels. The story examined the pros and cons of double cropping soybeans by talking with agronomy experts and farmers doing the little-used production practice in Iowa.
Despite climate and other challenges, many farmers have found a way to successfully raise peas, wheat, forage and other crops in conjunction with soybeans in the same year. Thus, getting more value out of every acre.
The hardest part of the story was finding sources since the practice isn’t widely used. I was able to track down participating farmers and experts studying double cropping after many phone calls to Iowa State University agronomists, ISA leaders and others.
Farmers, for the most part, said double cropping paid. Some were earning hundreds of dollars more per acre raising two crops a year — whether it was through grain and vegetable contracts or feed savings for livestock. Producers said it doesn’t always pay and it may not work on every farm or soil type, but it works for them.
Challenges abound for double cropping. If soybeans are planted in early July, the weather must cooperate to get decent yields. Compaction can be a problem if the first crop, like peas, is harvested in wet conditions as the story points out. It’s not uncommon that double cropping is a losing proposition.
But that’s what this story was all about: Providing information to farmers to make their own decisions whether or not the practice is for them. It may be a money maker, it may not.
The story was well received by farmers. Many told me they had no idea more and more colleagues were trying double cropping and making it work. It gave them something to consider, they said.
Ag journalism is all about providing information to farmers to help them make informed decisions. And, thinking out-of-the-box is a good thing. I learned during these trying financial times, farmers need both.