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A new version of Crop Sequence Calculator, a computer-based management tool developed by ARS scientists, is helping farmers make better decisions about crop rotation choices in years when rainfall is scant. Click the image for more information about it.

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Drought Makes Farmers Mind Their Peas and Corn

By Don Comis
May 8, 2008

A continuing drought in parts of the Northern Plains is pushing more and more farmers in dry areas to rethink their crop choices. Of the past nine years, only three have been wet years for these areas.

Some of these farmers put a new CD into their computers earlier this year to help plan their spring plantings. The CD contains the third--and latest--version of the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Crop Sequence Calculator, which was released in February.

Scientists at the ARS Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, N.D., developed the Crop Sequence Calculator. To date, they have sent more than 12,000 copies of the CD free to farmers, ranchers and educators worldwide.

The calculator is a decision tool that deals with 16 crops, including barley, flax, sunflower and crops grown to support grazing cattle. Corn was one of the six new crops added in the latest calculator.

The new calculator, which includes data from the relatively dry years of 2002 through 2005, shows that in dry years, the deep-rooting and water-thirsty corn grown after peas--which are shallow-rooting and light users of water--yields better than when grown after thirstier crops.

The new calculator includes data from the previous CD, version 2.2.5, collected during the relatively wet years of 1998 through 2000. The earlier version similarly showed that growing the deep-rooting sunflowers after peas promised the highest sunflower yield. Users can plug in the prices they expect to get for their crops each year and see predicted gross and net earnings per acre for various combinations of crops in rotation.

Each version of the Crop Sequence Calculator was based on data from growing 100 combinations of 10 crops, with four crops in common to both versions: canola, dry pea, spring wheat and sunflower. Now farmers and ranchers can evaluate those four crops for both wet and dry years.


ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.