Planting cover crops is a hot trend but farmers who haven’t tried it yet have one question: “What’s it going to cost me?” USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed a simple digital tool to answer that question. It’s called the Cover Crop Economic Decision Support Tool. It helps farmers, landowners and others make informed decisions when considering adding cover crops to their production system. And it’s free.
“The tool offers a partial budget analysis,” explains Ivan Dozier, Illinois NRCS State Conservationist. “It focuses only on operational changes farmers make-actual costs and benefits farmers see when they add in cover crops. We focus on benefits and costs we can easily express in dollars,” Dozier adds.
Benefits & Costs To Measure
- Direct nutrient credits
- Input reductions
- Yield increases & decreases
- Seed & establishment costs
- Erosion reductions
- Grazing opportunities
- Overall soil fertility levels
- Water storage & infiltration improvements
The tool’s analysis depends on data users enter. Users can run “what if” scenarios if they want to evaluate a range of values. The tool offers results in both dollars and graphs, showing short- and long-term benefits.
“Our hope is that answers to some of the big economic questions will help more Illinois farmers give this conservation option a try,” says Dozier. According to NRCS and other research, long-term results in renewed soil health offer huge returns in crop yields, water quality and infiltration improvements, weed and pest control and more. “Cover crops are a good trend and one that can actually pay off,” Dozier adds.
This NRCS tool, which is being used nationwide, was developed by Agricultural Economists in Missouri and Illinois. Farmers can download the spreadsheet and run it at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/il/soils/health/?cid=stelprdb1269028 or visit the Illinois website and find a fact sheet about the tool and download the tool there.