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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Morris, Minnesota » Soil Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #313810

Research Project: Enhancing Cropping System Sustainability Through New Crops and Management Strategies

Location: Soil Management Research

Title: Double- and relay-cropping of energy crops in the northern Great Plains, USA

item BERTI, MARISOL - North Dakota State University
item Gesch, Russell - Russ
item JOHNSON, BURTON - North Dakota State University
item JI, YUN - University Of North Dakota
item SEAMES, WAYNE - University Of North Dakota
item APONTE, ALFREDO - North Dakota State University

Submitted to: Industrial Crops and Products
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/8/2015
Publication Date: 11/30/2015
Publication URL:
Citation: Berti, M., Gesch, R.W., Johnson, B., Ji, Y., Seames, W., Aponte, A. 2015. Double- and relay-cropping of energy crops in the northern Great Plains, USA. Industrial Crops and Products. 75(B):26-34.

Interpretive Summary: The world’s human population is expected to approach 9 billion by the year 2050. In order to meet the growing demand for food, feed for livestock, fiber, and now biofuel, new crops and cropping systems will need to be developed. Double- and relay-cropping are two management options that allow producing two crops within a single growing season on the same land. This way, more crop production can take place per acre. Furthermore, using these two methods allows farmers to grow both a food and a biofuel or feed crop on the same piece of land. This means that biofuel and livestock feed can be produced without sacrificing food security. A two-year study was conducted across three locations including Prosper and Carrington, ND and in Morris, MN, to evaluate yields and energy returns from double- and relay-cropping winter camelina with forage sorghum, soybean, and corn. Winter camelina was planted in the fall and harvested early the next summer as a "cash" cover crop and it performed well at all three locations. For the double- and relay-crop combinations that were tested, the one that worked the best at all three locations was winter camelina relay-cropped with forage sorghum. This combination returned the highest crop yields and had the greatest energy efficiency. Relay-cropping sorghum with camelina involves planting the sorghum between camelina rows late in the spring. The camelina is harvested over the top of the sorghum, which at that time is shorter than the camelina. The relayed sorghum is then harvested at the end of the summer or growing season. The results of this study will benefit farmers who are looking for ways to combine growing a "cash" cover crop with producing a second food or feed crop during the remainder of the growing season. This information may also be useful for agriculture policy makers and conservation groups who want to encourage farmers to grow cover crops but also need to assess the risks of combining a cover crop with a primary second (i.e., summer) crop.

Technical Abstract: In a growing developing world, innovative cropping systems are necessary to obtain continuous and sustainable supplies of food, feed, fuel, and bio-based products. Double- and relay- cropping systems are an option to produce biofuels, food, and biomass feedstock in a single season on the same land without sacrificing food security. Field studies were conducted between 2011 and 2013 in Prosper and Carrington, ND, and Morris, MN. Eleven crop sequences composed of double- and relay-cropping of forage sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.), soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.), and maize (Zea mays L.), following winter camelina (Camelina sativa L.) were evaluated. Forage sorghum and camelina were used as theoretical feedstocks for energy production from biomass and oil, respectively. Camelina seed yield was 1415 and 940 kg ha-1 in Prosper and Carrington averaged across years, respectively. In Morris, seed yield was 278, and 1745 kg ha-1 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. In the relay-cropping systems, the highest biomass yield (16.2 Mg ha-1) was achieved with forage sorghum inter-seeded into standing camelina. Energy efficiency was evaluated for double- and relay-cropping systems based on energy inputs and outputs. The forage sorghum seeded at a normal seeding date (NSD) and at the same time that it was seeded into the double-crop treatments (DSD) on fallow ground, and soybean seeded at a NSD had energy efficiencies of 17.8, 18.7, and 21.6, respectively, in Carrington. In Morris, forage sorghum and maize seeded at NSD had energy efficiencies of 42.6 and 34.7, respectively. Of the double- and relay-cropping systems, the camelina-forage sorghum relay treatment produced the highest energy efficiency at all three locations in both years. Forage sorghum seeded at NSD was the most energy efficient monocrop at all three locations. Both forage sorghum in monocrop and the camelina-sorghum relay treatment showed good potential for biofuel and energy feedstock production in the Northern Great Plains.