Farmers have heard about numerous benefits of soil health practices such as no-till and cover crops, but they don’t always see a specific dollar amount attached to those investments. A three-year study from the National Association of Conservation Districts and Datu Research sought to change that.
Participating farms in the study experimented with no-till, cover crops or both practices. Here is how their per-acre operational costs were affected.
- Planting costs went up $38
- Fertilizer costs went down $50
- Erosion repair costs went down $16
- Yields went up $76
All told, net farm income went up by as much as $110 per acre.
Farmers also had to factor in the time cost for learning more about no-till or cover crop practices. Farmers had to spend considerable time attending workshops in person, or online, to learn more, according to Marcy Lowe, CEO of Datu Research.
“This time turns out to be an excellent investment, when bottom lines start improving,” she says. “Farmers who switch to these practices can see losses at first. But thanks to these case study farmers, who are generously sharing what they’ve learned, that learning curve will speed up for other farmers.”
Some of the benefits are more intangible, too. For example, case study participant Frank Moore, who farms in Howard County, Iowa, says these practices can strengthen landlord relationships – if they understand the end goals.
“Right now, there’s somebody waiting in line to rent your ground,” Moore says. “You have to keep your relationships with your landlords up. You need to explain to them what you’re doing...the business side of it.”
For case study participant Michael Willis, who farms in Gentry County, Missouri, the key to success was implementing new practices on a 25- to 50-acre field before making broad changes across his entire farm.
“Start small enough that it doesn’t freak you out, but large enough to matter,” he advises.
Click here to read the case studies.