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How Quickly Will Cover Crops Pay for Themselves?

How Quickly Will Cover Crops Pay for Themselves?

Any new farm expense or investment can be preceded by plenty of head-scratching and pencil work over how long it will take to pay for itself.  A new publication makes those calculations easier for those considering cover crops – and the news is positive.

National SARE has released a new free technical bulletin, Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops.

Drawing on data from the National Cover Crop Survey, the 24-page bulletin summarizes costs of seed and seeding, and cash crop yield increases over time.  A key finding is farmers should evaluate the economic returns from cover cropping over several years, as they would for other purchases with long-term payback periods, like applying lime or buying new farm equipment.

The heart of the bulletin is an analysis of net returns from cover cropping in corn and soybean production, at time intervals of one, three, and five years.  Then, building from that baseline, the bulletin also gives estimates for seven different ways in which cover crops can pay for themselves more quickly, when used:

  • to manage herbicide-resistant weeds
  • to provide grazing for livestock
  • to alleviate soil compaction
  • to speed up and ease the transition to no-till
  • to mitigate drought effects
  • to reduce fertilizer expenses or capture manure nutrients
  • to qualify for incentive payments

In many cases, two or more of these situations can overlap, further increasing the net economic benefit to the farmer.

Most of the remainder of the bulletin is devoted to more in-depth exploration of each of these seven situations.  This section includes profiles of farms experiencing various such circumstances, explaining how each has been able to realize quicker net positive economic returns on cover crops as a result.

The bulletin concludes with a review of off-farm benefits of cover crops – including water quality, infrastructure savings, carbon sequestration, and others – that farmers may also be able to capitalize on via labeling programs, niche markets, and other green marketing strategies and incentive programs.

Cover Crop Economics: Opportunities to Improve Your Bottom Line in Row Crops is available free in both electronic and print format from the SARE website.

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