Experienced cover crop users will tell you that the practice requires a lot of trial and error to find out the best timing for your farm, what cover crop species work in your soil, which termination method is most effective, etc.
Conducting these trials takes time, making the transition to using cover crops a long-term investment of time, money and effort for the majority of growers.
The Soil Health Partnership conducted an 8-month study with 7 Midwest farms in 5 states on operations ranging between 640 to 6,000 acres. The study found that growers who use cover crops made $40 more per acre than conventional growers.
Conservation tillage without cover crops only added $20, but still allowed growers to out-earn conventional farmers. Growers who stuck with cover crops for at least 5 years saw even more savings due to less expenses on equipment, repairs and fuel, as well as reduced seed costs and lower spending on fertilizer.
Some growers who participated in the study also lowered their operational costs by raising their own cover crop seed, although a recent proposed change in NRCS conservation rules could make that harder. However, the costs of growing your own seed are influenced by rental costs, acreage, labor, and other factors.
Additional savings and income from cover crops can be sourced from selling extra cover crop seed, carbon credits, savings on crop insurance premiums, and more.
Trial and error with cover crops and conservation tillage can result in big payoffs for growers—and isn’t being profitable the name of the game?