Set Field Management Goals

Cover crops can help address management challenges like erosion, soil compaction, problem weeds, nutrient loss and many others. They can earn carbon credits or provide livestock grazing or forage. Consider and prioritize the issues to tackle in each field and ways to add value with cover crops. Clear goals and priorities will guide decisions about specific species, seeding method, termination timing and other logistics.

Learn about the links between cover crop management goals and overall soil health. Cover crops provide real soil solutions. These resources explain how planning and implementing cover crops in your fields make a difference.

Cover Crop Economics

Does it pay? That’s the first question asked when considering any new practice. Cover crops introduce new costs, like seed, fuel and labor for seeding and termination, and equipment adjustments. Plus, crop yields may take a few years to adjust to the soil system change. National economic analysis shows that cover crops typically have a net cost at first, but by year three, they break even on average. Over time, they can pay in the form of higher yields, fewer crop inputs, improved water management, carbon markets and more.

Check out these calculators to pencil out how cover crops can earn a place in your rotation. Plug in your numbers to estimate costs for seed, termination, equipment use and more, and work through the potential value of the short and long-term benefits.

Systems Approach and Transitioning

Cover crops become part of the overall agronomic system, not just an additional input. Like any new practice, integrating cover crops is a process. Many farmers and agronomists recommend starting small, asking questions of experienced cover croppers and trying different options to determine what fits best. These efforts reveal what other areas need adjustments to get the most value from the whole system. These resources and tools provide perspective to ease into including cover crops in your rotation.

Measuring Success

Are cover crops contributing to progress toward your goals? Consider system evaluation as a key step in your cover crop integration plan. Gather baseline information on soil health, yield trends, nutrient loss, problem weeds and other factors in field management goals. Then, determine how to gauge changes, the frequency of evaluation for each system component and follow through on that data analysis.