CONSERVATION SYSTEMS RESEARCH FOR IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY AND PRODUCER PROFITABILITY
Location: National Soil Dynamics Laboratory
Title: THE ECONOMICS OF COVER CROP BIOMASS FOR CORN AND COTTON
Submitted to: Southern Conservation Tillage Systems Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: June 26, 2006
Publication Date: June 26, 2006
Citation: Morton, T.A., Bergtold, J.S. 2006. The economics of cover crop biomass for corn and cotton. In: Proceedings of the Annual Southern Conservation Tillage Systems Conference, June 26-28, 2006, Amarillo, Texas. CDROM
Interpretive Summary: In order to conserve soil resources in the southeastern United States, many farmers have begun to use alternative production systems that reduce soil erosion, such as conservation tillage methods. A key component of these methods is the planting of cover crops prior to cash crops. Cover crops can provide large amounts of surface residue that will help reduce wind and water erosion. The purpose of this study was to examine the economic benefits of having different amounts of surface residue produced by cover crops. Findings indicate growing a rye cover crop planted prior to cotton or a crimson clover cover crop planted prior to corn using conservation tillage practices can increase farm profitability. Furthermore, profitability increased as surface residue provided by the cover crop increased. These results imply that cover crops can play a significant role in increasing farm profits and farmers should try to obtain as much residue from the cover crop as possible.
The inclusion of cover crops into cropping systems brings both direct and indirect costs and benefits to the farm. A myriad of studies have examined the economic benefits of cover crops in multiple cropping systems by comparing them to systems without cover crops. To date, economic research pertaining to the economic impact of the level of cover crop biomass has yet to be examined. Thus, the purpose of this paper was to assess the economic impact of different amounts of biomass associated with growing high residue cover crops in a corn-cotton conservation tillage system. An experiment examining planting and termination dates of cover crops and its effects on cover crop biomass, cash crop yields and weed suppression in corn-cotton conservation systems was conducted at two sites in Alabama and one site in Florida. A mathematical model incorporating the direct and indirect effects of cover crops, such as weed suppression and provision of nitrogen to the soil, was estimated using the experimental data. Findings suggest that rye and crimson clover cover crops used in a conservation tillage system can, in fact, be profitable to a farmer if managed properly and if economically viable levels of biomass are obtained from the cover crops. Taking into account potential cost savings, the minimum amount of cover crop biomass needed to be profitable for rye prior to cotton was 4,897 lbs per acre and for crimson clover prior to corn was 2,680 lbs per acre.