Equipping farmers to build resilient farms and communities.
Using cover crops strategically can turn them from a cost-prohibitive practice to a nearly break-even practice or better. Practical Farmers surveyed 251 cover crop cost share participants in 2019 on the added costs of cover cropping and how they were adjusting practices to save costs.

We hope that, with examples from other producers, you can adjust aspects of your cover cropping practice to make cover crops pay on your farm.
SEED AND APPLICATION COSTS
Cost share participants spent an average of $29 per acre on seed and application costs of cover crops. Minimizing seed and seeding application and optimizing dollars spent are ways to make cover crops a net-positive practice.
Ways to Save
  • Couple seed application with fall fertilizer application. This typically costs less than $4/ac
  • Grow your own seed
  • Skip the fancy (multi-species) mixes unless you plan to graze
  • Get more plants per square foot with smaller-seeded species. For example, substitute out radishes for turnips or rapeseed
Reasons to Spend
  • If you plan to graze the cover crop, it might be worth the extra expense of increased seeding rate, multi-species mix or earlier application
  • If you want a consistent cover crop stand for weed suppression, don't skimp on cereal rye seeding rate
  • If you're expecting an N credit from a summer-seeded cover crop such as clover, the added seed expense will typically pay for itself
CHANGES TO COSTS OF CROP PRODUCTION WITH COVER CROPS
Cover crops can help save on herbicide and tillage costs, and there is typically no need to use additional herbicide or additional tillage with cover crops. The graphs below show how, with cover crops, people are saving or spending on cash crop production expenses.

Values on the y-axis are average values of the people who reported changing a practice. Responses are from 111 people who have both cover cropped and non-cover cropped fields.
How Farmers Are Saving with Cover Crops
Avoid Additional Expenses with Cover Crops
Saving with Cover Crops
  • Some producers omitted herbicide products with an average value of $10.97/ac
  • Reducing the number of herbicide passes saved an average of $7.25/ac
  • Cover crops enabled some producers to omit a tillage pass, saving them an average of $17.52/ac
Avoiding Additional Expenses
  • Additional herbicide product or passes are not necessary for cover crop termination
  • Additional tillage with cover crops is not necessary, unless using organic practices to terminate
  • No need to apply additional N fertilizer because of cover crops, but adjust timing of application with cereal rye ahead of corn to include N fertilizer at planting
SAVINGS FROM COVER CROPS—LIVESTOCK FEED
Cover crops can be a valuable feed source, either for grazing or as mechanically-harvested hay or silage. A study done by farmer-researchers found that grazing cover crops netted an average of $48.43/acre without cost share or $76.48/acre with cost share

Survey responses showed a range of feed values of grazing the cover crop; the distribution of values below is of the self-reported feed value of the cover crop, without including the seed and application expenses.
Grazing Value of Cover Crops
Optimizing the ROI of grazing cover crops
  • Seed early for increased fall biomass
  • Use quick-growing species such as oats, turnips, and rapeseed for fall grazing
  • Use a heavy seeding rate of an over-wintering cover crop for spring grazing
  • Leave some—at least six inches—of cover crop stubble for re-growth
  • Plant cover crops in fields close to your feedlot, with existing fence and with access to water to additional reduce costs
On Friday, join Becca Clay, PFI's strategic initiatives agronomy coordinator, for a presentation covering the economic information featured in this email.

Hear results from a partial budget analysis of cover crop costs and revenues among cost-share participants.


(If you miss the Sept. 18 webinar the recording will be available on the page linked above.)
PROGRAM UPDATES
Ready to invest in cover crops on your farm?

You could earn $1,600 or more to help off-set the cost – fill out the application now to see if you’re eligible.
Remember to attend a soil health or cover crop learning event
A requirement of participating in the cost share program is that you must attend a soil health or cover crop learning event. Events can be in-person or virtual. Upcoming events are listed below.
IN THE FIELD
Cover crops on downed corn acres can suppress volunteer corn next year and retain valuable soil nitrogen.

Receive additional cost-share for cover crops and structural damage by applying for EQIP funding by October 2.
Derecho-damaged crops may need to be destroyed to prepare for next year's crop.

In this video, Matt Darr discusses different tillage options for destroying a corn crop, including which options might be best for later cover crop seeding.
Typically after a drought year, we observe “pulses” of additional N leaving fields and finding its way to waterbodies.

Research by Iowa State indicates that cover crops can scavenge and recycle this nitrogen.
UPCOMING EVENTS
Practical Farmers is hosting all of our field days online—making it easier for you to “attend” field days over a broader geography. Check out the full field day lineup here.
Hosted by: Practical Farmers
September 18 |7:30-8:30 am | Online

Hosted by: Peter Seeley, Sam Hitchcock Tilton & Practical Farmers
September 18 |12:30-1:10 pm | Online

Hosted by: Bob Weck & Illinois Extension
September 21 | 3-4 p.m. | Online

Hosted by: Witek Krajewski, Iowa Flood Center & Iowa Learning Farms
September 23 | 12-1 p.m. | Online

Hosted by: Brian Dougherty & Iowa Learning Farms
September 24 | 1-2 p.m. | Online

Hosted by: Soil Health Partnership
September 29 | 10-11 a.m. | Online
Want to host a virtual cover crop happy hour? We’ll help you with the tech, and how to virtually invite your neighbors to the discussion. Contact Sarah if interested sarah@practicalfarmers.org
 
Are you planning or hosting a cover crop field day—virtual or in person? Send the details to rebecca@practicalfarmers.org, and we’ll include it in our next newsletter.
COVER CROP POLL
Help us develop a cover crop mobile app
Practical Farmers is developing a mobile app for cover crop seed and application sourcing, and we would like to understand which apps our members are likely to use. Help provide insight on which ag-related apps you use and more.
Send us your cover crop poll ideas! We want to know what YOU want to know, reply to this email with your ideas for the next poll.
Previous poll results:
What's your take on flying on cover crop seed?
  • Too spotty or challenging to me - 56%
  • Convenient and I like early growth - 17%
  • I'm trying it for the first time this year - 12%
  • Haven't tried it yet - 15%
CONTACT OUR COVER CROPS TEAM
Sarah Carlson
Strategic Initiatives Director
(515) 232-5661
Chris Wilbeck
Independent Contractor
(515) 232-5661
Rebecca Clay
Strategic Initiatives Agronomy Coordinator
(515) 232-5661