With much of the cover crop planted last fall just starting its spring growth, it’s too early to tell if cover crop seed availability will be an issue after this season, according to seed dealer Arvin Vos.
Delays in planting last fall could mean lower supply or higher prices for 2020.
Vos, a Pella, Iowa, dealer who works with Iowa Cover Crop, said availability depends on what the spring brings for the major seed-growing regions.
“My seed all comes from South Dakota, North Dakota and Canada,” he said. “It depends what kind of spring they have up there and how much they got planted last fall. It’s still too early to tell.”
Vos said he hopes farmers planted more acres of cover crop seed up north because the demand for seed has continued to rise year over year.
However, even if spring doesn’t cooperate with the seed growers in the Dakotas, cost shouldn’t be an issue overall, Vos said. In the past five years, the cost per acre for cover crops has only gone up one or two dollars per acre. Even if the price goes up a bit, he is confident farmers will stick with the practice.
“Once they’ve started and are really looking at their ground and are concerned about everything from erosion to weed control and holding nutrients on the ground, they’ll keep doing it over and over again,” Vos said.
Mark Licht, a cropping systems specialist with Iowa State University Extension, said cereal rye is by far the most popular cover crop in Iowa, with oats, radishes, turnips and wheat also seeing heavy play in the fields.
He said a newer species that could be considered in Iowa is camelina, a non-grass cover crop. There has been breeding done to improve this crop in Minnesota, but a higher seed cost and lower seed availability will limit its use.
“(Camelina) is like other legume and brassica species in that production may be limited and/or it is also a higher value crop because of other characteristics,” Licht said. “Plus camelina is a ‘newer’ crop because of the recent breeding efforts. By far the most cost-effective cover crop species are going to be cereal rye and oats.”
One way farmers can save money on cover crops is by being more efficient in their plantings, Vos said. The standard for many growers has been a bushel of seed per acre. That is due to stipulations by cost-sharing programs with the government, which set out guidelines for cover crops.
For those who aren’t limited by a cost-sharing program, putting in less seed could have the same effect at less cost.
“We are finding out we don’t need to plant a bushel per acre,” Vos said. “That was the old system a few years ago. On bean ground, we are only doing 40 pounds of cereal rye grain per acre. On corn stalk ground, going to beans next year, we are doing about 52 pounds per acre.”
Vos has run tests, planting a range of 30 pounds per acre all the way up to 56 pounds per acre, and said he can’t tell a difference when the plant starts greening up in the spring. He said being more efficient and lowering that bushel per acre standard would help with costs for many farmers.
Regardless of what happens with cost and availability, conservation practices have become more and more important, Vos said.
“Farmers are realizing they need to be concerned about the environment,” Vos said. “I think the majority of them are. We are doing more no-till every year, more soil testing every year and learning new things every year. I see a lot of waterway work getting done. I want to compliment the American farmer.”