Farmers Mind Their Peas and Sunflowers
By Don Comis
July 19, 2002
A continuing drought in parts of the
Northern Plains is causing farmers in dry areas to rethink their crop choices.
Some of these farmers put a new CD into their computers this past winter to
help plan their spring plantings. The CD contained the new Crop Sequence
Calculator, which showed that peas would be the best crop for drought,
particularly when rotated with sunflowers.
Last year, the earlier version of the calculator went to 2,300 people,
mostly farmers. This years version has already gone to 3,600.
The calculator, developed by scientists at the Agricultural Research
Services Northern Great Plains
Research Laboratory in Mandan, N.D., shows that growing peas one year and
sunflowers the next year promises the highest sunflower yield--1,490 pounds an
acre. By plugging in a typical price of nine cents a pound, farmers can see
predicted gross earnings of $134 an acre. Clicking the Production
Economics button reveals an estimated average net return of $42.41 for
That figure came from the 1999 and 2000 experiments in which ARS scientists
at Mandan grew all 100 possible combinations of the 10 crops included in the
The pea/sunflower combination is a winner because peas use little water and
sunflowers are one of the deepest rooting crops. So when peas are grown first,
they leave behind more water in the soil, and the sunflowers can go deeper into
the soil to reach that water.
The CD contains photo guides to the weeds, insects and plant diseases likely
to pose problems. And it has slide shows that display research results and
explain the basics of soil, water and pest management.
More information on the Crop Sequence Calculator can be found in the
July 2002 issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
scientific research agency.