Cover crops help reduce input costs

For Jerry Hall, research director for Go Seed, an Oregon-based company that develops seeds for the turf, forage and cover crop markets, the question about the cost of cover crops needs to be turned around, farmers are asking themselves. asking: cover crops save me?

Only then does he say that they see the decrease in inputs such as fuel and labor, while providing long-term production benefits through improved resources.

“To see the full potential they bring to an operation, we have to stop chasing performance and look at the overall picture of production,” he says. “This is where we’ll see the real savings.

Still, putting cover crops in the ground costs money. Rob Myers, director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at the University of Missouri, and Ray Massey, MU extension economist, say farmers need to control these costs. Thus, they offer an overview of some expenses, as well as some savings related to cover crops.

Equipment expenses

Cover crops should be sown at the right time with the right equipment.

“If the cover crop doesn’t grow, throwing the seed there just burns the money,” Myers says. “Farmers need to have a good plan to establish their cover crops, just like they do with cash crops. “

To ensure proper distribution, the drill or row planter should be checked and calibrated to ensure that the seeds have the best possible contact with the soil. Spreading cover crop seed can also work, Myers adds, but it is not a good idea with larger cover crop seed, or very late in the fall when there is little weather. for a rain to come.

Massey adds that there are hidden equipment costs that farmers cannot expect. A farmer can afford a custom rate of $ 7 per acre for planting while planning to use $ 5 per acre on their own equipment. It seems more profitable. But that $ 5 fee doesn’t necessarily account for all equipment expenses.

“People see the cost differently,” Massey explains. “The things that people experience or feel [differently] is the cash cost. Most farmers see fuel as a real cost of cultivation, but they can ignore their own labor or the depreciation of their equipment. Massey encourages farmers to recognize all costs.

Hall argues that the farmer can offset some equipment costs in terms of fuel consumption. The Natural Resources Conservation Service conducted a Conservation Effects Assessment project to examine annual fuel savings by comparing gallons of fuel used in conventional tillage practices to gallons used in conservation tillage practices such as seasonal and continuous direct sowing.

He found that on average, conventional tillage uses over 6 gallons of fuel per acre each year, while no-till uses 2 gallons of fuel per acre each year. “In mid-August, the average price of diesel was $ 3.18,” Hall says. “For someone who farms 1,000 acres, switching to a no-till system saves $ 12,720 per year on fuel alone. “

Growing costs

Like any other crop, there are costs associated with growing cover crops. First, there is the cost of seeds.

For heavily compacted soils, Myers recommends purchasing deep-rooted cover crop species that penetrate the soil, such as radishes. In soils with fertility problems, legumes such as crimson clover or hairy vetch can do well and help restore the soil.

One way to quickly lose that investment is to ignore residual herbicides in a field. This remaining herbicide can be abundant and strong enough to kill a cover crop, especially cruciferous and some legume cover crops. Grasses such as cereal rye or triticale are less affected.

“It’s important to look at what chemicals have been sprayed on a field and how they might impact the relevant cover crops,” Myers explains.

But used correctly, cover crops can reduce some input costs, such as the use of chemicals. “Rather than leaving the fields bare after harvest, establishing a fast growing cover crop will supplant the weeds, reducing the pressure on the next crop,” says Hall.

According to a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Study (USDA-SARE) of conservation tillage systems in the Southeast, she found that planting a crop of Rye cover in Mississippi reduced total weed biomass by 19% to 38% in different tillage systems, and total weed density by 9% to 27%.

Achieving cost savings when growing cover crops comes down to variety selection – choosing the right cover for the right savings. High-impact legumes selected specifically to fix large amounts of nitrogen can also reduce fertilizer costs, Hall says.

“Legumes are the signature for forming root nodules from rhizobium bacteria, which draw nitrogen from the atmosphere as a nutrient resource for plant growth,” he says. “The root nodules also release nitrogen into the soil as a nutrient available for companion and subsequent crops. However, the real magic happens when the legume completes its life cycle, releasing nitrogen into the soil as its components begin to break down. “

In a trial at the Ewing Demonstration Center in Illinois, decaying balansa Fixation clover added 269 pounds of nitrogen per acre over a six-and-a-half month period. In return, balansa Fixation clover improved the soil nitrogen contribution and soil parts per million ammonium by 40% and 80% in just four weeks after emergence of corn.

While this increases the cost of seeds, pulses pay for themselves quickly by the amount of nitrogen added to the soil that is immediately available for subsequent crops. Data from the Illinois trial show that balansa Fixation clover fixed 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre four weeks after emergence. Based on a 60-cent-per-pound rate for nitrogen fertilizers, that’s a savings of $ 30 per acre, Hall explains. At 10 weeks, 84 pounds of nitrogen per acre has been set for a savings of $ 50.40 per acre.

Think big, but plan

Farmers need a long term strategy for using cover crops if they are to see a return on their investment. “Think of it like using lime to raise the soil’s pH, which can take up to three years to pay off, or buying new equipment,” Myers explains.

He adds that a national economic review of cover crops through the USDA-SARE program determined that it takes an average of three years for cover crops to break even.

“Then they deliver a profitable return over the following years,” Myers explains. “This means that in the majority of farming situations there is an investment cost in the first two years. Farmers must have a multi-year perspective.

Source: GoSeed, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all of its subsidiaries are not responsible for the content of this information asset.

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