Washington State UniversityWorld Class. Face to Face.Future StudentsCampusesWSU HomeWSU Search
Agricultural Horizons - Agricultural Sustainability Notes Series    



Questions To Ask About Alternative Crops

Deciding to try a new alternative crop or crops takes a considerable time investment. Following are a series of questions that you should research for each crop, prior to growing it. For your convenience, the list is divided roughly into production and economic issues, both of which are equally important.

Economic Issues

  • Are there consistent markets for the crops?
  • Is there a profit to be made?
  • Is there a local market or marketer?
  • Is the crop a cash crop (wheat) or a rotational crop (canola)?
  • What is the future value of money-rotational cash flows?
  • Can you develop future rotations that allow a consistent market and crop?
  • Who organizes the shipment if there are several loads from several farmers?
  • What is the cost of production-fertilizer requirements, equipment needed?
  • What is the risk of alternative crops vs. the stability of wheat? Can we compare growing alternative crops alone (including risk) with growing wheat continuously?
  • Can we put a dollar value on rotational benefits (weighing rotational benefits with returns)?
  • What are the equipment needs? Will you have to purchase new equipment-pre and post harvest?
  • Is it a commodity-based crop or a specialty crop?
  • Are contracts available and at what volume?
  • What are the consumer perceptions of the product?
  • Are there buyer hang-ups e.g. are they willing to buy from a new market area?
  • What are the impacts of middle marketing e.g. livestock food quality requirements?

Production Issues

  • How do you grow the crops?
  • How do you protect the crops?
  • Do you need new equipment for the crops (pre- and post-harvest)?
  • Is the crop a real or perceived benefit? Rotational crops are a perceived benefit that can backfire because they really are unknown.
  • Are there standardized rotational models that apply to this region?
  • Can you find a smorgasbord of crops rather than a single "silver bullet"?
  • What is the rotational impact on subsequent crops?
  • What is the carryover nutritional value and scavenging capabilities of each rotation?
  • What is the residue, nitrate, microbe, water usage, and disease impact of rotations?
  • What are there biological effects of rotation and timing e.g. allelopathy, sanitation?
  • Has anyone explored multiple uses for the crop - e.g. forage and grain, value-added products?
  • Are there quality requirements-dockage, grain damage, oil content? Specifications get tight when stocks are high but are relaxed wen supplies are short.

Available Resources

One further note…

If you are growing a food crop and don't know anything about marketing it, you can go to the grocery store and write down all the products that have that crop as an ingredient and then phone them all those companies. You can also go to the library. People get stingy with information because they did the legwork looking for information when they got started and think others should invest time too. In addition, growers are more secretive on alternative crops because it will impact the market by saturating it and lowering prices. Trade secrets can make or break a farmer and determine the success or failure of the crop.

Curtis Hennings, Linda and Ron Mielke, Tracy Eriksen, Jerry Snyder, Keith Schafer, Bill Heinemann, Paul Scheller (Producers); Chad Shelton (Western Farm Service); Desmond O'Rourke (WSU IMPACT Center); Karen Cummings, Tom Lumpkin( WSU); Ed Adams, Lynn Alderson, Jon Newkirk, Diana Roberts, Bill Schillinger, and Linda Loos (WSU Ag Horizons Team) provided concepts that are summarized in this report. Information is from a workshop held in Ritzville, WA, on January 16,1998.

Agricultural Sustainability. Highlights from a seminar series conducted by Washington State University's Ag Horizons Team and funded by USDA Western Region SARE.

Diana Roberts
222 N. Havana
Spokane, WA 99202-4799
Phone: (509) 477-2048
FAX: (509) 477-2087
Contact us: Ag Horizons 509-725-4171 | Accessibility | Copyright | Policies
Ag Horizons, PO Box 399, Davenport, WA, 99122 USA