Resource: Third Crops
NextStep website and MnSCN are winding down
The NextStep website and the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network (MnSCN) are winding down and will no longer function after June 30, 2015. Until then, the website will be accessible, but existing web site content will not be updated nor will new resources or other new content be added to the site. Learn more.

Title: Third Crops
Resource type: Article
Topics: Agriculture, Business, Ecosystems, Energy, Individual Choices, Land Use, Water
Keywords: farm, farming, crops, diversification
Audience: All
Region: Minnesota Statewide, Outside Minnesota
Summary: Environmental advantages and economic opportunities to introducing a wider range of third crops into rotations of corn and soybeans.
Content: On Midwestern fields corn is often the first crop, rotated annually with soybeans, the second crop, and a third crop such as alfalfa. In looking to return to the more economically self-reliant, diverse farms of previous generations, the Blue Earth River Basin Initiative (BERBI) in south central Minnesota has promoted this expanded definition of third crops: a wide variety of non-row crops (oats, switchgrass, hybrid poplar, native plants for seed production, grazing/pasture, etc.) and non-crop 3rd crops (water storage, carbon sequestration, hunting leases, wind energy, etc.) for "planting" on a portion of a farm's acreage. See http://ruraladvantage.org/pdf/Proceedings.pdf to access proceedings of a 2003 conference on third crops that BERBI helped to sponsor.

The motivations and benefits of third crops are many:

* Significant improvements to water quality through reduced nitrogen leakage, reduced pesticide use, minimized soil erosion.

* Improved soil health and water retention.

* Visual diversity and diversity of crops and income sources.

* Reduced pest populations due to crop diversity.

Those working on initiatives such as perennial crops, biomass energy, agroforestsry, eco-tourism, wildlife corridors, nutraceuticals, bioindustrial development and carbon sequestration are contributing to potential third crop opportunities for working agricultural land, and to a more stable rural economy.

As an example of emerging opportunities, currently some Iowa farmers are being paid $3 - $15/acre/year by the Greenhouse Emissions Management Consotrium (http://www.gemco.org/) to sequester carbon by reducing tillage. See also http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/mba/me3report.pdf

Of related interest is an initiative organized by the Univerity of MN, Green Lands, Blue Waters, is a long-term comprehensive effort whose mission is to support development of and transition to a new generation of agricultural systems in the Mississippi River Basin that integrate more perennial plants and other continuous living cover into the agricultural landscape. See http://www.greenlandsbluewaters.org/

Suggested by: Philipp Muessig
Added: 11/15/04
Updated: 05/12/11