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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.

Farmers harvesting melons, picking them and putting them in a pickup truckThis 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 area.  

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.

Large cloud formationComponent 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 presented. 

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.


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Last Modified: March 15, 2021