Alternative crops for the Brown Soil Zone: crop comparisons in four cropping systems
Grain producers are seeking increased profitability and economic stability after a prolonged period of depressed cereal prices which have eroded net farm income in the Brown Soil Zone. Greater crop diversification offers one solution, as oilseed and pulse crop markets react independently of cereal markets. This economic reality has been recognized by producers in the Brown Soil Zone where, in 1994, alternative crops (including canaryseed) were seeded on more than 600,000 of 7 million total cropland hectares, representing 15% of the seeded area. Cropping practices for alternative crops were adapted from more humid soil-climatic regions, and the limits of their application in the semiarid Brown Soil Zone are largely unknown. Western Canadian plant breeding programs have been productive, providing improved cultivars and new crop types which may be better adapted to drier regions. Furthermore, improvements have been made in machine design and in tillage management practices which may prove complementary to the production of alternative crops and to improved conservation of soil and water resources. Research into the production of alternative crops in the Brown Soil Zone will provide new knowledge aimed at increasing and stabilizing economic returns, diversifying the production base, conserving soil and water resources, and promoting value-added activities. The goal of this research is to compare grain production and quality of several alternative crops, relative to spring wheat, amid four cropping systems; and, to measure the effects of alternative crops on a subsequent wheat crop. Specific research questions to be addressed are: 1. What are the relative production levels for selected alternative crops on fallow vs. stubble in the Brown Soil Zone? 2. Does tillage system affect oilseed and pulse crop performance? 3. What are the relative yields of spring wheat on different crop stubbles and do they relate to water use by the previous crop?
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