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Fall 2015 planting decision: Double-crop wheat and soybeans, or full-season soybeans in 2016?


University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky grain farmers have just started harvesting corn and are getting to the point where they will decide how much wheat they will plant this fall. In Kentucky, wheat is almost always planted in the fall following the harvest on corn ground, and then double-cropped with soybeans in early summer after the wheat harvest. This allows for two crops in one year. However, soybeans planted after the wheat harvest are more susceptible to summer drought, which means on average yields are lower for these double-cropped soybeans. In Kentucky, this yield reduction typically averages around 20 percent. As a consequence, the majority of soybeans planted in Kentucky are full-season plantings rather than double-cropped.

A major change the last two years is the continued price declines for wheat and soybeans (as well as corn). The following analysis includes estimated returns comparing double-cropped wheat/soybeans with full-season soybeans for the 2016 crop, and the likely implications for Kentucky grain farmers.
In this analysis, I account for additional costs associated with the double-cropping including fuel, machinery repairs and depreciation, labor, hauling, etc. I’m using 2016 new crop CME future’s prices on September 10, 2015 and adjusting for a new crop basis of -$.25 for both soybeans and wheat. This results in new crop prices of $8.40/bu for soybeans and $4.70/bu for wheat.

Finally, I’m evaluating two regions with different agronomic characteristics. The first region is along the southwest tier of counties near Hopkinsville, which traditionally does a lot of double-cropping. The second region is along the northwest tier of counties (Ohio Valley region) that has some of the best yields for corn and soybeans, but traditionally plants less wheat. Cash rent is assumed to be $225/ acre for both these regions (note: this will vary substantially, but is done here for illustrative purposes only). Net profit is estimated after subtracting out all variable and fixed costs represented by an efficient operation. Major assumptions are: $2.15/ gallon fuel, 25 mile one-way grain hauling, $.40/unit N, $.40/unit P, and $.40/unit K.

Southwest Tier Assumptions:
  70 bu wheat
  35 bu double-cropped soybeans
  44 bu full-season soybeans
  Resulting net profits:
  -$180 double-crop
  -$143 full-season soybeans

This results in a $37 difference in favor of the full-season soybeans. The double-cropped soybean yield would have to increase to 39.5 bushels before wheat/double-crop soybeans were as profitable.

Northwest Tier Assumptions:
  65 bu wheat
  38 bu double-cropped soybeans
  50 bu full-season soybeans
  Resulting net profits:
  -$179 double-crop
  -$93 full-season soybeans

This results in an $86 difference in favor of the full-season soybeans. The double-cropped soybean yield would have to increase to 48 bushels in this case before the wheat/double-crop soybeans were as profitable.

Given the current market conditions, double-cropping doesn’t look attractive for 2015- 2016, particularly in northwest Kentucky. An important note is that this analysis doesn’t account for potential payments from the new ARC and PLC Farm Bill programs. However, these programs would pay on base acre crop allocation and not planted acres. So there should be no effect on planting decisions. Another important result from this analysis was that all projected net returns were highly negative even for the more profitable crop using a $225/acre land rent (-$93/acre to -$143/acre with full-season soybeans), primarily due to the continued drop in commodity prices. Potential payments from the ARC and PLC Farm Bill programs will improve these net returns, but even with the best case-scenario, we would still see steep losses.

To change the assumptions above to your specific conditions and evaluate your expected profitability, go to the grain budget site at:




This article was written by Greg Halich, agriculture economist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and Mark Williams, a horticulture professor at UK. The article first appeared in the September 29 edition of Economic and Policy Update.