Table of Contents
Oplinger, E.S. 1993. Development of new agronomic crops
in the Midwest. p. 92-95. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops.
Wiley, New York.
Development of New Agronomic Crops in the Midwest
Edward S. Oplinger
- AGRONOMIC & ECONOMIC RESEARCH
- UTILIZATION RESEARCH
- INFORMATION DEVELOPMENT AND DISSEMINATION
- COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION AND MARKETING
- OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEW CROP DEVELOPMENT IN THE MIDWEST
- LIMITATIONS TO NEW CROP DEVELOPMENT IN THE MIDWEST
- Fig. 1
- Fig. 2
Development of new or "alternative" agronomic crops in the Midwest (Fig. 1) has
occurred primarily in four areas: agronomic and economic research; utilization
research; development and dissemination of information; and commercial
production and marketing. This review and summary is limited to agronomic
crops which are new to the Midwest.
A telephone survey conducted by the author indicated that there was some
research activity on a few new crops in all states in the Midwest in 1990 and
1991. Agronomists from all states reported field studies were being conducted
on canola and/or oilseed rape, Brassica napus and Brassica
campestris. The studies ranged from cultivar evaluations, to planting
practices, fertility requirements, and harvesting techniques. Almost all of
these states also reported some commercial production of these crops.
At least four states, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and North Dakota, now have
research centers receiving state and/or federal funding and have full-time
personnel working on new or alternative crops. The descriptions of their
research activity are described elsewhere in these proceedings.
The extent of the research activity on new crop utilization is more difficult
to identify. Much of the new uses or value added research is being conducted
on more traditional crops, especially maize (Zea mays), soybean
(Glycine max L. Merr.), and small grains. Recent research at Wisconsin
has demonstrated the value of feeding unprocessed soybeans to dairy cows. This
resulted in a 25% increase in the state's hectarage and production in 1991,
with the majority of the increase being grown by first time producers. Thus,
for some producers, soybean is a new or alternative crop in Wisconsin.
Development of soybean cultivars with reduced levels of trypsin inhibitors is
creating expanded feed uses for the crop. Waxy hulless barley (Hordeum
vulgare L.) is currently being developed as a highly soluble fiber source.
As recent as two years ago, alternative crops were not delineated in defining
commodity responsibilities. This has changed and the most recent Extension
Personnel Directory lists seven of the 14 midwestern states with one or more
individuals identified with alternative crop responsibilities (Fig. 1). The
remaining seven states also have at least one extension individual that answers
questions and provides information on alternative crops.
Several states have developed fact sheets and extension bulletins on the
agronomic and economic potential of specific alternative crops. Wisconsin and
Minnesota have developed and distributed an Alternative Field Crops Manual
(Oplinger and Oelke 1991) which describes 48 crops and their potential for
production in the Upper Midwest. Each chapter (crop) is divided into eight
sections covering: History, Uses, Growth Habits, Environmental Requirements,
Cultural Practices, Yield Potential and Performance Results, Economics of
Production and Markets, and Information Sources. Over 500 copies of the manual
have been sold and distributed to educators, farmers, agribusinesses, and
government personnel. It was used as a resource on the National Satellite
Extension Program on the "Flex" opportunities in the 1990 Farm Bill.
All states in the Midwest report that some commercial production of canola
and/or rapeseed has occurred during the past five years (Fig. 2). For most
areas, hectarage of this new crop has increased significantly in the past two
years. In addition to its value as a high quality oil source, canola has been
stimulated by the provisions of the Farm Bill which encourage planting of
alternative oil crops. White Lupin (Lupinus albus L.) production has
occurred on over three thousand hectares in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
This cool-season crop is being produced primarily for a source of livestock
protein in areas of these states where soybean is not competitive. Food and
industrial uses for lupin products are also being developed.
Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus L. and A. hyprochondriaxus L.) is
being produced on a commercial scale in Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and
perhaps other states. The principle use of crop as grain is flour which is
mixed with other cereal flours to enhance the nutritive quality. Two other
cereals which have seen increased use by some farmers as forage and grain for
livestock are triticale (Triticale hexaploide Lart.) and spelt
(Triticum aestivum L. var. spelta).
After several years of research in the Midwest, the first successful
field-scale production, processing and marketing of crambe (Crambe
abyssincia Hochst) an industrial oilseed crop occurred in North Dakota
(Gardner et al. 1991). Over 2,000 ha were produced and processed in 1991, with
an anticipated expansion to 8,000 ha in 1992. Wild rice (Zizania
palustris L.) represents a recent effort to domesticate a native cereal
grain. Prior to 1960, all of the wild rice was harvested from natural stands
in lakes and rivers. Today, 95% of the grain in commerce comes from cultivated
fields primarily through research efforts in Minnesota. Perhaps one of the
most unique new crops commercialized in recent years has been milkweed in
Nebraska. Milkweed floss has commercial potential as a substitute for down, as
a component of pulp and paper products and as a blending fiber in natural yarns
The Midwest has several distinct advantages for new crop development. Soil
resources, fertility, water, and sunlight in the Midwest are generally not a
limitation for most potential new crops. The Midwest is close to high
population centers, thus transportation costs to get new food products to
market should not be excessive. There are relatively large animal numbers in
the Midwest for potential utilization of feed and forage from new crops. There
is a considerable potential market in the Midwest which may also provide some
resources for new crop development.
With the majority of the crop area in the Midwest in maize, soybean, and wheat,
there is mounting evidence to support expanding the traditional grain crop
rotations with new or additional crops. In some cases, the economic incentive
for considering an additional rotational crop will be because of the improved
yields and lower production costs of the traditional crop. Finally, the
Midwest has a considerable "flex acres" affected by the 1990 Farm Bill which
can be planted to alternatives like canola, rapeseed, sunflower, and flax.
The Midwest also has some unique characteristics which will limit the
introduction and planting of sizeable area of new crops. Dominance from maize,
soybean, wheat, and sorghum is an impediment. These crops are well adapted to
the Midwest, and support from government programs for maize and wheat will make
them difficult to replace. In some cases, growers in the Midwest have a
limited amount of planting and harvesting equipment due to specialization.
Additional limitations to new crop development resulted from crop area being
removed from active crop production resulting from federal programs such as the
Conservation Reserve Program. Fluctuations in the exchange rate and the
strength of the American dollar has resulted in shifts in production areas for
some minor and alternative crops. Mustard production in North Dakota has
recently shifted across the border to Canada as a result of the exchange rate.
Significant advances in the development of new agronomic crops in the Midwest
during the past three to five years have occurred primarily with canola, white
lupin, amaranth, crambe, spelt, triticale, and wild rice. In certain areas,
production and utilization of these crops has increased to a level that some
producers consider them as alternatives to their traditional crops. These new
crops are being used as a source of protein for livestock, forage and grain for
livestock, food for human consumption, or oil for food or industrial purposes.
In some cases, new uses for traditional crops have altered traditional cropping
- Gardner, J.C., B.G. Schatz, P.M. Carr, D. Klinkebeil, S.F. Swinger, and M.
Hollatz. 1991. Field-scale evaluation of crambe as an alternative crop. In:
Alternative crop and alternative crop production research: A progress report.
North Dakota State Univ., Fargo, ND.
- Knudson, H.D. 1993. The milkweed business. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon
(eds.). Progress in new crops. Wiley, New York.
- Oplinger, E.S. and O.E. Oelke. 1991. Alternative Field Crops Manual. A3532.
Univ. of Wisconsin and Minnesota Cooperative Extension Services. Madison, WI.
Fig. 1. Midwest extension agronomists with alternative crop
responsibilities for new agronomic crops, 1991.
Fig. 2. Commercial production of alternative agronomic crops in the
Last update September 5, 1997