Can cover crops pay? Unraveling yield enhancement on a wide scale to provide incentive for increased adoption.
Cover crops (CC) have demonstrated ecosystem services which contribute to sustainability, yet uncertainty over financial benefits and fear of crop yield reduction continue to prevent adoption. Survey results and research data indicate CC use can have a positive effect on yield, yet knowledge of what specific practices increase crop yield and by how much is limited. Our objective is to identify which management practices contribute most to yield response and to what extent, using better data and resulting recommendations to build an argument for increased adoption. This project builds on two past SARE projects, ONC17-034 and LNC15-375.
On-farm trials will be conducted over an agriculturally diverse region of Wisconsin, generating 90 site-years of replicated comparisons of CC management variations against no cover to determine which practices contribute most to yield response, the magnitude and variability of the response and the overall yield response to CC. Cooperating farmers will design their individual trials to answer farm-specific production questions they have, for example “should I increase corn starter N rate when planting green?” In addition to crop yield response, we will collect CC conservation performance data to better credit CCs for their role in erosion and run-off reduction by SnapPlus, Wisconsin’s nutrient management planning software, also increasing incentive for adoption. We will also conduct partial budget analysis to calculate net returns and analyze this data for variability and risk to demonstrate financial incentive.
Our outreach plan relies equally on peer-to-peer information exchange within producer-led watershed protection groups and routine Extension programming, targeting farm advisors. Our state-wide outreach efforts will involve cooperating farmers to share their experiences and insights for events with largely farmer audiences. With increased knowledge of documented CC impacts on yield and net return as well as best management practices (BMPs) to maximize them, farmers will increase adoption. The increase in CC use will lead to improved farm profitability through crop revenue and improved water quality trade credits, improvements in soil health and water quality and a more bucolic landscape.
Project objectives from proposal:
Learning outcomes: Increased knowledge of CC impacts on crop yield response, net return, and risk; increased knowledge of BMPs to maximize yield response and net return.
Action outcomes: Increased CC adoption, CCs managed for maximum return and ecosystem services, improved crediting of CC contribution to soil and P loss reductions in SnapPlus nutrient management plan estimates, use of data in agricultural lending decisions and crop insurance program revisions.
Systems changes: Improved farm profitability through crop revenue and improved water quality trade credits, improvements in soil health and water quality and a more bucolic landscape.