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Soil Health Institute incentivizes farmersSoil Health Institute incentivizes farmers

On the fence about cover cropping? Check out the SHI Cover Crop Challenge to get started!

Whitney Haigwood

September 14, 2023

2 Min Read
Row crop field planted in cover crops.
The Cover Crop Challenge funded through the Soil Health Institute is a gateway to trying cover crops on your first 30 to 40 acres.Joe McAlee, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

At a Glance

  • Program through the Soil Health Institute incentivizes producers planting their first 30 to 40 acres of cover crops.
  • The SHI partners with local specialists and conservation farmers to mentor new cover crop farmers enrolled in the program.

Producers considering cover crops for the first time can take advantage of the Cover Crop Challenge funded through the Soil Health Institute (SHI). By taking advantage of this program, producers can receive financial assistance along with solid mentorship to improve their soil health management plan. 

Emily Ball, soil health educator at the SHI, gave an overview of the program at a recent meeting held at the Judd Hill Foundation Farm in northeast Arkansas. She noted that program funding for the Cover Crop Challenge is focused on cotton producers and specific to cotton acreage. 

She said, “We are looking for farmers who are on the fence about cover cropping to help them with the financial aspect. This is a gateway to trying cover crops, and farmers can expand on their own account. 

“The idea is to start small by planting something simple like cereal rye on 30 to 40 acres. Then farmers can scale up and participate in USDA-NRCS programs based on their soil health needs.” 

Financial assistance is approximately $1,000, intended to carry the cost of planting cereal rye on the designated acres. Ball said, “There is no catch. The money is available to anyone willing to plant the cover crop and agree to share their experience with the SHI. We want to hear your success stories.” 

Related:Resources and incentives for conservation cover cropping

Based out of Raleigh, N.C., the SHI is a nonprofit organization focused on grower education. Ball said, “We realize we cannot be experts everywhere. Growers usually want to hear from other growers in their region, so we partner with local specialists and farmer mentors in each of the states where we work.” 

In northeast Arkansas, highly respected conservation mentors include members of the Arkansas Soil Health Alliance, Tim Smith, owner of Southern Soil Solutions, Inc., and Bill Robertson, long-time cotton and conservation agronomist and owner-operator at CWC Farm. 

Ball said, “We have an agreement with Tim Smith to help farmers get the cover crop varieties they need, and we will provide support along the way.” 

Robertson noted that he leans on Smith for cover crop variety selection. “Tim is an excellent resource to specifically choose cover crops for your acres. He helps with what a farmer needs now and looks ahead at the soil health needs in years to come.” 

Smith understands the bigger picture and said, “From my standpoint, it is about making more profit per acre. You have to figure in everything. 

“You may yield a little less when planting cover crops, but you have to take into account the reduced input costs from less water usage, fewer chemicals, and building soil health to the point you can cut back on soil fertility.” 

Farmers interested in the Cover Crop Challenge should contact Ball by email at [email protected] or by phone at 919-504-2137. 

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