Strategies to lower production costs

Reduction of production costs is one strategy for increasing farm profitability. The possible importance of this strategy is illustrated by results from three studies sponsored by South Dakota State University comparing conventional and alternative (organic) cropping systems. "Study 1" and "Study 2" were conducted from 1986 to 1992 on replicated field plots at a university research farm (Smolik, Dobbs & Rickerl, 1995); "Study 3" was a paired comparison from 1985 to 1992 of two commercial South Dakota farms, one managed conventionally and the other managed organically, without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and other pesticides (Dobbs & Smolik, 1996).

In Study 1, a conventional maize-soybean-wheat rotation was compared with an alternative maize-oat + alfalfa-alfalfa-soybean rotation; in Study 2, a conventional wheat-barley-soybean rotation was compared with an alternative wheat-oat + clover-clover-soybean rotation (a mixture of red and sweet clovers was sown). The conventional systems used commercial fertilizers and moldboard plowing; the alternative systems relied on legumes and manure as sources of fertility and used only surface tillage practices. Weeds were controlled with herbicides and cultivation in the conventional systems, whereas in the alternative systems, weeds were controlled without herbicides, but with additional cultivation operations. Inclusion of the forage legume crops (alfalfa and clovers) was also considered to make a positive contribution toward weed control in the alternative systems.

In Study 1, average maize yield per unit area was higher in the conventional than the alternative system, but average soybean yield was similar in the two systems (Smolik et al., 1993). Soybean and wheat yields were also similar between the conventional and alternative systems of Study 2 (Smolik et al., 1993). Gross income, which was calculated using crop sales prices (without premiums for organic products) and relevant government subsidy

Table 1.2. Economic resultsfrom three comparisons of cropping systems conducted in South Dakota
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