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(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) A new study from Iowa State University finds that despite a positive perception about cover crops and the availability of cost-share programs to incentivize their use, the return on investment may be the biggest hurdle to widespread adoption of the practice. “We have a substantial body of research that shows cover crops have positive long-term benefits for water quality, soil health and the environment,” said Alejandro Plastina, an assistant professor of economics and extension economist. “Farmers also have positive perceptions about the value of cover crops and can take advantage of cost-share programs that incentivize their use. But it’s likely that the number of acres planted won’t substantially scale up if the practice doesn’t at least break-even in the short term.” And, he added, “Cost-share payments are a critical incentive to support the practice of cover crops. But we found that for most farmers, these payments are insufficient to cover all costs associated with cover crops.” So what could be done to tilt the balance toward a more positive net return? Plastina said that farmers who grazed livestock on cover crops, or harvested them for forage or biomass, generated enough additional revenues or cost savings to result in overall positive returns. “A less sustainable alternative, due to federal and state budget constraints, would be to consider public policies that provide more incentives to adopt cover crops, like more cost-share payments, subsidized seed, discounted crop insurance premiums or tax credits,” Plastina said. He plans to develop a website on the economics of cover crops that will include tools for farmers to discern potential costs and benefits.

Posted March 13th, 2018
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