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Bottom Line For Cover Crops: Profit or Loss

Bottom Line For Cover Crops: Profit or Loss
If they don't return a profit, the concept won't have staying power.

All Don Robison really wanted to know was if cover crops would return a benefit in his no-till operation on his family farm near Greenwood. His brother, Dave, assists him on the farm. Both also have off-farm jobs.

The brothers set up an extensive test plot with checks and various combinations of cover crops in a field on their farm this past summer. Despite drought, the cover crop plots yielded typically more than 100 bushels per acre, and gave them an indication of what they could expect if they had an entire field in that cover crop mixture.

Dollars and cents: What the Robison brothers (Don, far right) wanted to know was whether or not cover crops returned a benefit in terms of profit.

For those who have been working with cover crops for a while, it's no longer just a decision of whether or not to use cover crops, it's now a decision of which mixture will work the best. Also, which varieties should they select? Who is selling quality seed adapted to this part of the country? And how should they get the seed established?

Don recently reviewed the findings of their one-time plot this summer at a conservation meeting. The most important chart for him was the net advantage plot. Every cover crop plot, based on a yield boost, returned an advantage compared to the check, even after seed cost and cost of application or seeding were subtracted. These covers were established in the fall of 2011. Plots were harvested this fall.

The net advantage ranged from $41.78 to $286.94 for having a cover crop on the field during the winter and growing in the spring. Robison used a price of $5.75 per bushel for corn, because he doesn't expect the current high prices to last in the long run, and he wanted a fair comparison for the future so that he could make decisions.

He notes that this is one plot in one unusual year. In a different year other cover crops might perform better than the best mixtures this year.

TAGS: Management
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