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Fostering Sustainable Agriculture through Research, Education and Policy since 1984

Institute Initiates New Project Examining Cover Crop Economics

In April, the Institute was awarded a USDA Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (SARE) Partnership Program grant to evaluate the economics of cover crop use in no-till grain production. The project entitled “Do Cover Crops Pay? Expanding Learning Circle for Peer to Peer Cover Crop Promotion Using Economics as a Theme” will couple research and outreach in hopes of increasing cover crop adoption on the fragile, highly erodible soils of Southern Jefferson and Northern Walworth Counties. Data, including our work at the Institute is increasingly showing a positive yield response in the crop that follows the cover crop, often covering the additional costs of cover crop establishment and management, in effect providing soil conservation and health benefits for free without government assistance through cost share programs. Being able to document a positive economic benefit is especially important in this era of low commodity prices.

The project involves four highly experienced no-till farmers who have long-term histories of cover crop use. Using replicated strip trials, we will evaluate production economics while documenting conservation benefits. One of the on-farm sites is located within the pristine Mukwonago River watershed and we hope that positive results will increase cover crop adoption in the neighborhood to keep sediment and nutrients out of the river, protecting its pristine condition. Cooperating farmers will be a key component of our outreach efforts, sharing their data and experiences. Research shows that peer to peer learning is highly effective for increasing adoption of sustainable practices.