The use of cover crops is steadily increasing throughout the United States. Recent economic and environmental concerns are fueling the increase interest and use of cover crops.

With the new interest in planting cover crops the availability of seed at a reasonable price can become a challenge in some areas.

Increased demand for cover crop seed can be an opportunity for farmers looking to diversify their farming enterprises. Currently, commodity prices are providing good returns but that is likely to change as markets cycle over time. Farmers could use cover crop seed production to balance farm income and reduce risk through diversification.

Common cover crops include cereal rye, red clover, oats, oilseed radish, cowpeas, hairy vetch, annual ryegrass, and sorghum and sudangrass, to mention a few.

Using the example of cereal rye yielding 40-60 bushels per acre and selling as high as $12 per bushel, gross per acre can reach $720. Another example using cowpeas yielding 30-35 bushels per acre or 1500-1750 pounds at $.80 per pound could gross $1,200-$1,400 per acre.

Production cost will vary between farms, but need to be figured when determining the economic viability of these new enterprises.

There are several other factors that farmers need to consider in determining whether a crop might be a viable enterprise in their particular situation. These include market demand for the seed and location of the market.

  • What are your projected production costs?
  • What are your available resources, such as suitable soils, irrigation capabilities, available labor, equipment, capital, and personal goals and interests?
  • Do you have the specific climate requirements for these crops?
  • What are the new management skills necessary to grow these crops profitably?

These are just a few of the factors that farmers need to consider before adding a cover crop seed enterprise. An additional resource to help in the decision-making process is the Alternative Field Crops Manual.

The manual is a joint project between the University of Wisconsin Extension Service and the University of Minnesota Extension Service.