Of the 304.3 million ha of land mass found in these eleven western states, only 23.9 million (7.8%) are currently used for crop production (Table 1) (USDA 1989). The percentage of land dedicated to crop production ranges from only 0.9% in Nevada to a high of 17.8% in Washington. This region has over 100 million ha used for pasture and nearly one million ha (4% of total crop land) classified as conserved. Slightly over 56% (9.7 million ha) of the crop land is irrigated. Some states such as Washington have less than 20% irrigated crop land while other states such as Nevada have 133% irrigated crop land indicating that some improved pasture is also irrigated. There are 5.4 million ha of wheat grown in the western states each year, indicating that nearly one of four cultivated ha is dedicated to the production of an agricultural commodity that is in surplus and supported by federal programs.
The production climates found in the western states vary almost as much within a single state as between states (Table 2). Even the warmer states such as California and Arizona have crop production regions that have less than 60 frost free days while other regions in the same state can expect more than a 300 day growing season. Even the longest growing seasons in the colder states such as Montana and Wyoming are less than 170 days. Several crop production zones in the arid Southwest receive less than 250 mm of annual precipitation while some areas of Oregon and Washington receive in excess of 1,900 mm of annual rainfall.
Generally, most agricultural production regions where new crops would be most economically competitive have only 120 to 150 day growing seasons and receive less than 450 mm of annual precipitation (U.S. Environmental Data Service 1989). Often what limited moisture can be expected, is the result of intense thunderstorms or is reasonably distributed so the crops can still experience severe moisture stress in the middle and late summer months. In regions with Mediterranean climates, winter annuals and very short season summer annuals are often most competitive under dryland conditions. To compete on irrigated lands, a new crop must have a value equivalent to or greater than existing crops. These climatic and land allocation factors make successful commercialization of new crops in the western states very difficult.
A telephone survey was conducted in June and July of 1991 to profile 22 new crops research programs in the western states (Table 3). A series of questions were asked to determine which crops were being investigated; the area of research being addressed; sources of funding for the new crops research; what factors limited additional production of the new crops; and what total production area of new crops are currently being grown and will be grown by the year 2000 in their specific region.
The projects were working at average altitude of 866 m (but ranged from 15 to 1,800 m) and had been active for an average of 11 years (1 to 40 yrs). The researchers indicated that the crops on which they were now working were grown on an average of 3,320 ha (but ranged from 0 to 122,000 ha) and had the potential to be grown on an average of 92,000 ha the turn of the century. The survey indicated that the potential impact of specific new crops during this period ranged from no commercial production to as much as one million ha of an individual crop.
Over 50% of the projects were working on legumes, cereals, or oilseed crops (Table 4). Less than a third of the projects were actively searching for new forage crops, condiments, or vegetables. These results have been biased since primarily projects supported by the Department of Agronomy at land grant institutions were surveyed. The specific crops listed by the researchers included five legume species, four species of oilseed and industrial chemical crops, four species of new cereals, four species of forage/fiber crops, three species of condiments, and five species of vegetable crops.
A large majority of the projects were interdisciplinary (86%) and vertically integrated to include growers, processors, and agricultural distribution firms (68%). Nearly all of the researchers indicated that introduction of new crops required application of nearly all disciplines of modern agricultural research as well as the direct cooperation of growers and processors to achieve final commercialization of any new crop.
Every researcher surveyed was working in some aspect of new crop production and 77% were screening one or more species of new crops for adaptation to the climate of their agricultural producing region (Table 4). There was less activity in the areas of the impact of new crops on crop rotations (18%), marketing (32%), crop processing and utilization (45%), and economics (41%). Most researchers felt that marketing and economics were important but did not agree when it was best to include these activities in programs to introduce new crops. Some researchers indicated that economic assessments should be delayed until the biological adaptation and agronomic potential of a crop species had been established.
All of the researchers indicated that lack of research funding has limited the efforts to develop new crops for the western states. Private and state funds provided financial support to over 70% of the projects while federal funds were available to only 55% of the projects (Table 4). Only 27% of the projects obtained their funding from a single sector while 71% obtained funds from private industry, state funds, and federal support. Most private funding came from fees charged for varietal adaptation trials.
When asked to define those factors which most directly limited the development of new crops in the western states, several were identified (Table 4). Lack of research funds was the most common factor (45%), followed by Farm and Government Policy (15%), and lack of developed markets (15%). Transportation costs, failure of grower to accept new crops, and the economic uncompetitiveness of new crops were also identified as factors which currently limit production. Although not included in the survey, some research indicated that lack of registered pesticides had also limited the production of new crops recently introduced into the United States.
Based on the results of this telephone survey it was apparent that the introduction of new crops will require a consistent source of research funding as well as the inclusion and encouragement of new crop production as a stated goal of American farm policy. It is unfortunate that one of the single largest deterrents to introducing new crops is the federal government's policies. The farm program has historically penalized a grower's production base when hectares were diverted from protected crops to production of new crops. Federal subsidies of selected crops create an artificial economic climate in which unsubsidized new crops often cannot compete.
Researchers developing crops for irrigated areas should concentrate on crops with high value to help defer the cost of irrigation and transportation to domestic and export markets. There is a desperate need to develop additional crops which can be grown on the arid and semi-arid regions typical of dryland production areas. Identification of species of new crops adapted to the 255 million ha of pasture, rangeland, and forests of the western states should also be initiated. Even a moderate increase in carrying capacity or timber yields across such a vast area would have tremendous economic impact. Finally, researchers working on new crops both in the United States and globally should more actively communicate and exchange scientific information. With limited financial support and only a few scientific personnel working in such a critical area it is important to encourage cooperation and avoid duplication.
|State||Total area (M ha)||Total farm (M ha)||Crop land (M ha)||Crop % of total||Irrigated area (M ha)||Cropland irrigated (%)||Conserved area (M ha)||Wheat area (M ha)|
|Range in frost free days, 1989|
|State||No. climatic zones||Minimum||Maximum||Range in avg. temp (°C)||Range in avg. rainfall (mm)|
|Hal Purcell||Tucson, AZ||Private Farm||Jojoba|
|Gene Aksland||Fresno, CA||Goldsmith Seeds||Lupine, triticale|
|Ali Estilal||Riverside, CA||UC-Riverside||Guayule|
|Steve Schaffer||Sacramento, CA||Calif. Dept. Agr||Kenaf, lupine|
|Duane Johnson||Fort Collins, CO||Colorado State Univ.||Amaranth, quiona|
|Stephen Guy||Moscow, ID||Univ. of Idaho||Canola, mustard|
|Joe McCaffrey||Moscow, ID||Univ. of Idaho||Canola, rapeseed|
|Grant Jackson||Conrad, MT||Montana State Univ.||Canola|
|Gil Stallknecht||Huntley, MT||Montana State Univ.||Teffy amaranth|
|Leon Welty||Kalispell, MT||Montana State Univ.||Canola, legumes|
|Mel Westcott||Corvallis, MT||Montana State Univ.||Mints, vegetables|
|Dave Whichman||Mocasin, MT||Montana State Univ.||Canola, forages|
|Charlie Glover||Las Cruces, NM||New Mexico State Univ.||Vegetables, chiles|
|Koert Lessman||Las Cruces, NM||New Mexico State Univ.||Crambe|
|Clyde Florenson||Reno, NV||Univ. of Nevada||Alfalfa|
|Gary Jolliff||Corvallis, OR||Oklahoma State Univ.||Meadowfoam|
|R.S. Albrechtsen||Logan, UT||Utah State Univ.||Wheat, barley|
|An Hang||Prosser, WA||Washington State Univ.||Canola, rapeseed|
|Tom Lumpkin||Pullman, WA||Washington State Univ.||Legumes, condiments|
|Baird Miller||Pullman, WA||Washington State Univ.||Canola|
|Joe Lauer||Powell, WY||Univ. of Wyoming||Canola, crambe|
|Jim Krall||Torrington, WY||Univ. of Wyoming||Legumes, canola|
|Examples||Response distribution (%)|
|Classes of crops in research program|
|Area of research|
|Processing and utilization||45|
|Source of research support|
|Number of sources of research support|
|Factors limiting introducing new crops|
|U.S. farm policy||15|
|Transport to market||9|