Case studies able to place worth on cover crop value
GEORGETOWN, Del. (March 6, 2018) — Using cover crops and/or no-till can improve the bottom lines by more than $100 per acre, according to a group of case studies in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.
Marcy Lowe of Datu Research LLC shared information from four case studies at Delaware Soil Health Partnership’s workshop on Feb. 21, focused on the profitability of soil health. All of the cooperating farms grow corn and soybeans and the case studies are available online at www.nacdnet.org/soil-health-research.
The Kuhns family has no-tilled for more than 20 years, Lowe said. When they added cover crops, they spent more on planting and learning activities, but saved on fertilizers and saw an increase in income.
With Lowe was Michael Willis of Willis Farm in Gentry County, Mo., who participated in the study with his father and brother.
Their land is hilly with lots of terraces. Growing small grain in the summer is a good opportunity to do soil work, he said.
The Willises have no-tilled since the mid-80s and used cover crops since 2012. They grow their own cover crop seed, planting into a green crop but seldom use radish or turnip as a cover crop because they harvest their corn so late, he said. They have used hairy vetch, but it flattens and winds around the planter. They like crimson clover as a cover crop.
When they have a lot of leftover cleaned seed, they seed cover crops heavily. They have tried planting by air into soybeans, but have seen better results broadcasting seed. They also graze cattle on cover crops when possible, which saves on hay cost.
Cover crops proved profitable without cost share, even the first year, Willis said. “For us, the benefits came quickly and at a time when we were making failures because of a learning curve. We still see immediate benefits without waiting decades.”
Cover crops have stopped erosion along ditches, slowed down water flow on the field surface and made “decent gains” in organic matter.
Willis said the study did not consider the dollar value of water saved because it was held in the soil.
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