As the war in Ukraine continues to play havoc with global markets, staples like wheat are experiencing a spike in both price and demand.

In response, President Joe Biden has asked American growers to double crop – to plant a second crop in the field after the first one has been harvested. The goals of the proposed double cropping are to increase production without having to cultivate new land and creating a buffer against food insecurity caused by the war.

Dr. Mark Licht, an associate professor and Extension cropping systems specialist at Iowa State University, laid out the pros and cons of double cropping.

“There are definitely good benefits to double cropping. It gives you the ability to grow your crops for a longer portion of the growing season, and it can increase your overall production and profitability,” he said.

Do your American duty and double crop (if you can)

Dr. Mark Licht of Iowa State University wants growers to weigh the pros and cons of double cropping before deciding whether the practice is right for them. Photo courtesy of Mark Licht

But double cropping isn’t without potential drawbacks. “Double cropping does come with increased risks due to weather, increased management and the need for more equipment. The weather risk in particular is tricky,” Licht said. “It’s largely due to the timing of the second crop’s planting and the amount of water available for that second crop. If it is dry and the first crop takes up most of the available moisture, then the second crop is going to suffer.” Double cropping can also deplete soil of valuable nutrients, which is an even larger problem now that the U.S. faces a fertilizer shortage.

Licht said some potential weather issues can sometimes be lessened by choosing the right genetics or different crop maturities. “Farmers really need to think through how much risk they are willing to take on and whether or not their current system will work to accommodate double cropping,” he said. “What I mean by this is a farmer who has not traditionally grown small grains may have a larger learning curve and would potentially need different equipment than a farmer who is already experienced in growing small grains.”

Licht opined that with the recent announcement by the USDA that it is expanding double crop insurance in almost 1,500 counties across the country, more growers will experiment with the practice. “I do think there will be a subset of farmers … that will give it a try. But even then, as it’s something they haven’t been historically doing, newcomers to double cropping will probably only try it on a small percentage of their land.”

by Enrico Villamaino