Small Grains in the Cornbelt

Adding a third year of small grains into a two year corn and soybean rotation has numerous benefits for the environment and farmers. The cool season crop disrupts pest cycles that plague a purely warm season rotation between corn and soybeans and allows for more growth of a nitrogen-fixing, green manure cover crop after the earlier harvest in July. This can reduce inputs like herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizer and has the added benefit of spreading a farmer’s work load more evenly throughout the year. Given these benefits we would expect to see oats and barley grown all over Iowa, but we don’t. Small grains have largely been absent from the Iowa landscape since the 1970s and as a result, commodity buyers have stopped looking to buy small grains in this region.

In order to close this gap and connect farmers who want to grow small grains with buyers who want to source a more sustainable product, Practical Farmers and the Sustainable Food Lab are spearheading a three year small grains marketing pilot in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The program offers farmers in these three states cost-share to incorporate a third year of small grains into their corn and soybean rotations and works with industry partners to find market outlets for the harvested grain.