How would you like to boost your net income by $4 an acre, every year? That’s what Oklahoma farmer Scotty Herriman managed, by adopting cover crops, along with strip-till corn, no-till soybeans, and other nutrient management changes. In the process, he’s also racked up an impressive checklist of ecological benefits.
That’s according to a budget analysis by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and American Farmland Trust. Herriman’s soybean yields increased by 5 bushels an acre, and corn by 40. In addition to the extra crop earnings, though, part of the net income increase came from money saved by the conservation practices.
He has to spend $7 more per acre on herbicide, but the reduced tillage means he also lays out $32 less per acre on machinery costs. Meanwhile, he’s saving a literal ton of soil a year on every acre. That’s reduced his phosphorus losses by 22%, and nitrogen by 73% – which adds up to savings on fertilizer as a result of all those nutrients not washing off of his fields.
He’s also seen the health of his soil improve – less compaction, better tilth, more earthworms, higher soil organic matter levels.
Herriman didn’t even have to pay for all this himself. He received financial assistance from an alphabet-soup mix of USDA programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Program, and the USDA Risk Management Agency Cover Crop Program.
(The payments from all these programs were left out of the economic analysis, making the point that cover crops, and other conservation programs, can pay for themselves even without a helping hand from Uncle Sam.)
American Farmland Trust has produced several resources with more information on Herriman’s conservation practices and their environmental and economic benefits, including a case study, fact sheet, and animated infographic.