Trees and shrubs offer new food crops to diversify the farm
August 11, 2017
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URBANA, Ill. – What if we could design a landscape that would provide a variety of nutritious foods, high-quality habitat, and ecosystem services, while also delivering a healthy profit to the landowner? According to University of Illinois researchers, it is not only possible, it should be adopted more widely, now.

“We need to be on the road to figuring things out before we get to tipping points on climate change or food security, or we could be left way behind. In future environments, people might get paid for ecosystem services or carbon credits, or food might become more valuable. If so, these systems become much more attractive for landowners,” says Sarah Taylor Lovell, an agroecologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I.

Lovell believes multifunctional woody polyculture is the way forward. She and several co-authors introduce the concept and discuss their experimental design in a recent paper published in Agroforestry Systems.

Essentially, the idea is to incorporate berry- and nut-bearing shrubs and trees in an alley cropping system with hay or other row crops. The combination is meant to mimic the habitat features, carbon storage, and nutrient-holding capacities of a natural system. “We wanted to capture that aspect, but we also wanted it to be commercially viable,” Lovell says. “The trees and shrubs need to fit in perfect linear rows 30 feet apart, so you can fit equipment. That was a much more practical agronomic consideration.”

Lovell and her colleagues are three years into what they hope will be a long-term experiment on the U of I campus. Their trial consists of seven combinations of species in commercial-scale plots, from simple combinations of two tree species to highly diverse combinations including multiple species of trees, shrubs, and forage crops. “We added increasingly diverse systems so we can get a sense of how much is too much diversity in terms of trying to manage everything in a feasible way,” she says.

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URBANA – On Jan. 11, the USDA released a series of reports that provide important fundamental information for the crop markets. The information included the final estimate of the size of the 2012 United States corn and soybean crops, estimates of December 1 crop inventories, a winter wheat seedings estimate, and updated U.S. and world supply and consumption forecasts for the current marketing year. University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good offered his analysis of the reports.

“For corn, the 2012 U.S. crop is estimated at 10.78 billion bushels, 55 million larger than the November forecast,” Good said. “The estimate of planted acreage of corn for all purposes was increased by 209,000 acres, the estimate of acreage harvested for grain was reduced by 346,000 acres, and the yield estimate was increased by 1.1 bushel per acre. The production estimate was larger than the pre-report average trade guess of just over 10.6 billion bushels, but the estimate of Dec. 1, 2012, stocks of corn was actually much smaller than the average guess.  Stocks were estimated at a 9-year low of 8.03 billion bushels, compared to the average guess of about 8.2 billion. The stocks estimate implies that feed and residual use of corn has not slowed as a result of the small crop and high prices that began in June of last year. Because of the harvest of a large quantity of corn before the marketing year began on Sept.1, 2012, feed and residual use should be evaluated over the six-month period from June through November 2012.   For that period, feed and residual use of corn totaled about 2.39 billion bushels, about 110 million more than use during the period from June through November 2011.  Such an increase is a little surprising but only because feed and residual use of wheat during that period was 125 million bushels larger than use in the previous year. As we have pointed out before, total grain feeding has been supported by only a very modest cut in livestock numbers and a sharp decline in the production of distillers’ grain,” Good said.

Unlike other years of small production and high corn prices, Good said that feed use of corn has remained large. “Such a high rate of use has been possible because corn used for ethanol production has declined about 10 percent year over year and because exports have been almost non-existent. Exports during the first quarter of the 2012-13 marketing year were at a 41-year low of 220 million bushels. For the year, the USDA now projects exports at a 43-year low of 950 million bushels. Year-ending stocks of corn are projected at a 17-year low of 602 million bushels, and the marketing-year average farm price is expected to be record high, in a range of $6.80 to $8.00 per bushel. Based on the average price received to date, it appears that the average for the year will be near the low end of that range,” Good said.

According to Good, the 2012 U.S. soybean crop is now estimated at 3.015 billion bushels, 44 million larger than the November forecast, reflecting an average yield of 39.6 bushels per acre, 0.3 bushel above the November forecast. Stocks of soybeans on Dec. 1, 2012, were estimated at a nine-year low of 1.966 billion bushels, implying a larger-than-average “residual” disappearance during the first quarter of the marketing year. The projection of marketing-year exports was unchanged at 1.345 billion bushels, reflecting the continuing expectations of a record South American crop in 2013, a larger domestic crush needed to meet export demand for meal and oil, and limited supplies of U.S. soybeans. Year-ending stocks are projected at 135 million bushels, up only 5 million from last month’s projection, and the marketing-year average farm price is projected in a range of $13.50 to $15.00. Based on the average selling price to date, the average for the year will likely be in the lower half of that range.

“The Dec. 1, 2012, inventory of U.S. wheat was reported at 1.66 billion bushels, slightly smaller than the average guess,” Good said. “Feed and residual use of wheat during the first half of the marketing year was about 220 million bushels larger than use during the same period last year, prompting the USDA to raise the forecast for the year by 35 million bushels and to lower the projection of year-ending stocks by a similar amount. The projection of the marketing-year average farm price was lowered by $0.05 per bushel in recognition that much of the 2012 crop has already been sold.

Good said that winter wheat seeded for harvest in 2013 is estimated at 41.82 million acres, 496,000 more than were seeded for harvest in 2012. The increase was smaller than expected, with area seeded to soft red wheat up 16 percent and area seeded to hard red and white wheat down about 2 percent.

“Taken together, the information in last Friday’s reports may provide some short-term support for old-crop corn prices and for wheat prices,” Good said. “With such large crop prospects in

South America and the likelihood of a large rebound in U.S. corn and soybean production in 2013, new-crop corn and soybean prices may remain under pressure,” he said.