An article from the University of Nebraska evaluated land ownership across the state. Agricultural land is 45.2 million acres across Nebraska, with that land being used for irrigated and dryland cropping, grazing and hay.
Over half of those acres (56%) are owned by farmers and ranchers, while 44% of the land is owned by absentee landowners. Neighboring states and other states in the Corn Belt show a similar trend.
In the U.S., 67% of landowners live within 50 miles of their farmland, and 87% live within 200 miles. Most absentee landowners tend to live in or near the state where their property is located.
With landowners being not as physically far removed from agricultural areas, that brings greater opportunity for tenants to engage with their landowners in conversations and education about important farm-related topics — such as the soil health and economic benefits of cover crops and conservation agriculture practices.
A 2020 study done in cooperation between the Soil Health Partnership, Environmental Defense Fund and K.Coe Isom measured the financial impacts of the adoption of conservation practices on seven Midwest row-crop farms.
The study showed that conservation tillage systems using no-till and cover crops had higher net returns vs. conventional tillage, while also reducing operating costs. Corn averaged net returns of $377 per acre on conservation tilled fields, $53 more than conventionally tilled fields. Corn from conservation tilled fields had operating costs of $404 per acre, compared to $448 per acre in operating costs for conventionally tilled fields.
For soybeans, average net returns in fields where conservation tillage was used were $251 per acre, compared to $216 per acre for conventionally tilled fields. Soybeans with conservation tillage but not covers had an operating cost of $217 per acre, while conventionally tilled fields without covers had operating costs of $311 per acre.
Those savings were coming from equipment costs — fewer repairs and lower fuel costs, not to mention the time saved by fewer passes across the field.
The study also found that experienced cover crop growers tended to find even more cost savings. For example, on corn acres, experienced cover crop users saved $9.19 per acre on cover crop seed, $25 per acre on fertilizer and $25 per acre on equipment. Soybean acres saw similar savings by advanced cover crop adopters, such as $5.90 per acre on cover crop seed, $48 per acre on fertilizer and $28 per acre on equipment.