Source: NRCS Illinois

Planting cover crops is a hot trend but growers who haven’t tried it yet have one question: “What’s it going to cost me?” 

The NRCS has developed a simple digital tool to answer that question. The Cover Crop Economic Decision Support Tool helps farmers, landowners and others make informed decisions when considering whether to add cover crops to their production system. And it’s free.

“The tool offers a partial budget analysis,” explains Ivan Dozier, Illinois NRCS state conservationist. “It focuses only on operational changes farmers make — actual costs and benefits farmers see when they add in cover crops. We focus on benefits and costs we can easily express in dollars."

Benefits and costs to measure include:

  • Direct nutrient credits
  • Input reductions
  • Yield increases and decreases
  • Seed and establishment costs
  • Erosion reductions
  • Grazing opportunities
  • Overall soil fertility levels
  • Water storage and infiltration improvements

The tool’s analysis depends on data users enter. Users can run “what if” scenarios if they want to evaluate a range of values. The tool offers results in both dollars and graphs, showing short- and long-term benefits.

According to NRCS and other research, long-term results in renewed soil health offer huge returns in crop yields, water quality and infiltration improvements, weed and pest control and more. 

“Cover crops are a good trend and one that can actually pay off,” Dozier says.

This NRCS tool, which is being used nationwide, was developed by Agricultural Economists in Missouri and Illinois. Farmers can download the spreadsheet from the NRCS website.