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Companion Cropping: The Next Big Thing
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Posted 3/1/2014 12:10 (#3724875 - in reply to #3475414)
Subject: RE: Companion Cropping: The Next Big Thing

Central Kansas
My cost per acre of growing the 64 acres of conventional double crop sunflowers was 250.31. My cost per acre of growing the 237.4 acres of double crop sunflowers with a companion cover crop was 189.69.

The yield of the conventional acres was 1281 lbs/a and the companion acres was 518 lbs/a.

I made 5.89 on my conventional acres. I lost 86.09 on my companion acres.

Remember, I mentioned the conventional acres were in an upland field and given more fertilizer after heavy rains. They drained well and did not stunt. The supplemental N was streamed on and foliar micronutrients were sprayed with the Select. Tissue tests before and after indicated a boost of nitrogen but not the micros (in the plant). The plants remained stunted but filled a good head after losing their yellow color. The companion flowers were all on flat, poor drained soil and stunted or drowned. Supplemental fertilizer would have fallen largely on bare ground. It was not added. Yield monitor data showed that on a ridge separating an 80 from a 40 (old fence line) the yield was more like the conventionals. I might suggest that I’m trying it again because I think the limiting factor was the field. (I’m adding side by sides in 2014 to offset this flaw from 2013 so if it’s wet or dry I should get better tests) If my yield was allowed to double to 1036 lbs/a on the companions, the profit would have been $12/a better than the conventional acres. I think the rain did damage the yield by 50% or more in the companion acres.

The costs that I kept track of were burn down including pre-emerge chemicals (41.75 conventional vs. companion), grass chemicals post emerge (6.00 conventionals vs 8.55 companion), bug chemicals (19.79 conventionals vs .21 companions), bulk fertilizer and innoculant (57.04 conventionals vs. 30 companions), mixing seed (zero conventionals vs. 1.10 companions), cover crop seed (zero conventionals vs 34.75 companions), flower seed (both 32.80), harvesting (both 41.15), starter fertilizer (both 25.37) and supplemental fertilizer (26.45 conventional vs .08 companions).

We sold all seed to Delaney Seed. They provided the trucks. They did not pay an oil premium but I later determined that I had 47% oil content. (Premiums are usually offered above 40%) The local price plus oil premium wouldn’t have beaten the seed company’s price. Free trucking is hard to beat, also.

Who knows the value of the cover crops to the ground/soil health? Who knows the value of the sunflower roots and the other roots breaking the deep soil and mining nutrients? Who knows the value of the shade? Who knows the value of the long term weed suppression? Is it more environmentally friendly to reduce chemical and fertilizer usage? We will add soil tests before planting 2014’s double crop sunflowers and soil tests following sunflower harvest.
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