Two conventional cropping systems (winter wheat/dry peas and winter wheat/spring barley/dry peas) in the dryland grain region of southeastern Washington were compared with several alternative systems regarding profitability and environmental impacts. Two of the alternative systems use green manure crops and have low fertilizer and pesticide requirements. The remaining two are otherwise conventional rotations modified to include soil-building crops, bluegrass seed and rapeseed.
Estimates of annual off-site erosion damage ranged from $6.56 to $20.50 per rotational acre, while on-site damage estimates ranged from $0.50 to $1.55 per rotational acre. Estimated leaching losses of pesticides to a water table 3.6 feet deep were negligible, but significant leaching losses of nitrate-N were predicted to occur from fall-applied inorganic fertilizer.
Including bluegrass in a conventional grain rotation increased estimated net returns over variable costs by 16% and decreased soil loss by 33% compared with the most profitable conventional rotation. The next most profitable alternative system, rapeseed plus a conventional grain rotation, had slightly higher net returns over variable costs than the second most profitable conventional rotation, with slightly less soil loss. When fixed costs of machinery depreciation and land are included, the alternative systems fared relatively better. An experimental wheat/pea/medic system had higher projected net returns over total costs than the most profitable conventional rotation, while averaging just one-third as much soil loss per year. A wheat/barley/sweetclover green manure rotation was similar in profitability to the less profitable conventional rotation, but had only two-thirds as much soil loss.
We constructed a mixed-integer linear programming model to determine the profitmaximizing combination of conventional and alternative rotations under 1990 farm bill provisions. Planting all or nearly all land to the bluegrass plus conventional grain rotation maximized returns over total costs for high, medium, and low program crop price scenarios. Farmers maximized profit by participating in both the wheat and barley programs under the low price scenario, only in the wheat program with moderate prices, and in neither the wheat nor the barley program under the high price scenario.