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Cover-Cropping: Making Money While Practicing Conservation

August 22, 2016 – Tim Morrissey, Public News Service (WI)

EAST TROY, Wis. — A study just released by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute points to tangible economic benefits and positive environmental outcomes from cover-cropping.

Wisconsin farmers are already familiar with the conservation, water-quality and soil-health benefits of cover-cropping, but they have also become increasingly aware of how using cover crops can bolster their bottom lines. Dr. Jim Stute, research director of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and author of the study, said farmers can make additional money per acre by using red clover as a cover-crop between corn plantings.

“At current market prices, the return to the cover crop is 22 dollars and 67 cents,” Stute said. “So that means the farmer is making money for doing a conservation practice.”

The study, which was funded by the National Wildlife Federation, found corn yields increased 12 percent on average following use of red clover as a cover crop, as compared to no cover crop. Stute said there’s also a 50 pound-per-acre Nitrogen credit associated with using red clover as a cover crop.

According to Stute, there were other tangible benefits to cover-cropping – including keeping the soil on the farm and out of the state’s waterways. He highlighted Wisconsin’s heavy reliance on tourism income, which he said would suffer if water quality diminishes. Cover cropping also reduces the need to dredge harbors and commercial waterways.

“The Milwaukee harbor would be a good example, or the twin ports – Duluth-Superior; the Mississippi River, too, another perfect example,” Stute said. “If the Army Corps of Engineers has to dredge for shipping, either commercial or for recreational boating, it costs money, and so the taxpayers are the one that bear that burden.”

Stute encouraged farmers to attend the 2016 Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference on August 30th in Lancaster. There will be bus tours of farms using cover crops to improve profitability.

“Also a look at current cover-crop research at the Lancaster Research Station, which is run by the University of Wisconsin,” Stute said. “And just coincidentally, our theme this year is ‘Coupling Economics With Soil Quality,’ so we’re looking at the soil-quality component, but hitting the economics hard.”