Do Cover Crops pay? Expanding a Learning Circle for Peer to Peer Cover Crop Promotion Using Economics as a Theme

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2017: $29,355.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2020
Grant Recipient: Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. James Stute
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research


    Commodity prices have been depressed for several years causing scrutiny of input purchases. At the same time, farmers recognize the soil health and conservation benefits of cover crop use. Should the investment in cover crops be questioned at the risk of jeopardizing soil benefits? Survey data suggests that farmers are achieving yield increases following cover crop use: 1.3 to 9.6 % for corn; 2.8 to 11.6% for soybean (SARE/ CTIC, 2012 -2017) which could potentially increase income or at least help reduce the cost of investment in cover crops. However, survey data potentially introduces wide-scale variability due to its lack of replication and large-scale estimates from a small population. Our objective therefore was to measure yield effects of cover crops and determine financial implications from their use with controlled plot research on highly erodible soils in Southeast Wisconsin Figure 6.

    We measured the impact of several cover crops on yield of subsequent crops in on-farm strip-trials, using partial budget analysis to evaluate the financial impact. Use of covers increased grain yield in 10 of 14 cases (71%), however yield increases were statistically significant in only 2 cases (14%). On average, cover crop use increased yield 2.2%, 2.1% for corn, 2.3% for soybean. Under current market conditions, grain yield increase resulted in a positive net return in only 1 case and on average, a 5.5% yield increase is necessary to breakeven. However, yield increases had the net effect of reducing cover crop cost 57.7% across numerous cover crop systems.

    We expanded our initial learning circle for peer to peer education, results dissemination and cover crop promotion, resulting in increased knowledge and adoption. Ultimately, this effort resulted in the formation of a farmer-led watershed group whose purpose is to reduce P loading of the Rock River watershed and further investigate to causes of, and management practices to enhance yield increase.


    Project objectives:

    1. Document/ demonstrate the economic impact of cover cropping.
    2. Expand our peer to peer learning circle to facilitate transfer of cover crop information and expertise.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.