Growing the oilseed plant called cuphea the year before growing wheat results in better wheat seedling survival and grain that is 8 percent higher in protein, according to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) study.
ARS plant physiologist Russ Gesch and colleagues discovered this in a four-year experiment in which they rotated cuphea with corn, soybean, and wheat on fields in Morris, Minn. Gesch is at the ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab at Morris.
Based on these results, Gesch recommends the following rotation order: soybean, cuphea, and then wheat or corn. This planting regimen increases the profitability of both wheat and corn. The research was recently published in the Agronomy Journal.
Crop rotations are known to be good for soil and reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers. Insect, disease and weed pests become well adapted to surviving in fields where little to no crop rotation is practiced. Perhaps the best example of this is the emergence of the highly adaptable corn rootworm, which accounts for more pesticide use on U.S. row crops than any other insect.
Cuphea is a new oilseed crop Gesch and other ARS scientists are developing for farmers in the northern Corn Belt. It can be used for a variety of industrial products, including jet fuel and other biofuels. It is a domestic alternative to palm kernel and coconut oils that supply the fatty acids needed to make thousands of products, from soap to motor oil.
Some 260 undomesticated species of Cuphea are native to Central America, South America and North America.
Gesch wanted to know how Cuphea might interact when rotated with corn, soybean and wheat. He found only beneficial effects. Cuphea did not harm yields of the other crops, nor did those crops harm cuphea yields.
Since 1999, Gesch and other ARS colleagues have worked closely with researchers at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., as well as researchers at various industries and universities. This team is developing guidelines for growing cuphea, as well as commercial varieties and new markets for the crop.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.