In the late 19th century
agriculture demonstration plots at several state university farms included a “new”
alternative crop as an alternative to the ubiquitous forage, timothy. Since
then soybean, although rarely used as a forage crop, has become one of the
nation’s major agricultural crops.
This site provides information regarding the suitability of potential
alternative crops for the climate and soils of Illinois. Knowing general suitability allows
growers to eliminate poorly suited crops from consideration and instead focus
their attention on crops more likely to be successful.
A crop is defined as a collection of genetically similar plants grown
for commercialization. Crops can be differentiated by their environmental
requirements and/or unique, marketable traits. Because this definition is not
limited to a single taxonomic unit, separate crops may exist within the same
species. For example, hard red spring
wheat and soft red spring wheat, both Triticum
aestivum L. subsp. aestivum, are considered different crops
because of their unique markets and different environmental requirements.
Although the terms “specialty crops” and “alternative crops” are often
considered synonymous, specialty crops, such as high lysine and high oil corn,
can be distinguished from alternative crops. Specialty crops are a subset of an
existing crop, often differing by one or more genes that confer a unique and
marketable quality. The market price of specialty crops is largely tied to the
original crop price, with a premium or incentive to offset added risk, and
increased production and storage costs. An alternative crop is a crop new to an
This site includes climate and soil requirements for more than 400
crops. These climate and soil requirements were combined with Illinois climate and soil data to create crop
suitability maps. These maps quickly show how well suited alternative and
traditional crops are to conditions throughout Illinois.
Component suitability maps were made for
seven key crop requirements: soil texture, soil drainage, soil pH, growing
days, growing temperatures, precipitation requirements, and winter minimum
temperature tolerance. For crops with sufficient information was available
to create all seven component maps, overall suitability maps are
Inclusion of many familiar crops allows users to compare alternative
crops and traditional crops. Additional environmental requirements and
information on disease, taxonomy, and adaptation are presented in text.
Information about Illinois climate and soils are included, as well as links to other
alternative crop sites.
This site was designed as an initial resource for growers considering
new crops. Growers are encouraged to thoroughly investigate a new crop prior to
planting. A complete investigation requires detailed information regarding
economic and biotic limits of each new crop.