Resource: Third Crops
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 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 ( to sequester carbon by reducing tillage. See also

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

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