How Cover Crops Pay Off in a Continuous No-Till System

Cover crops involve some expense, but Rulon Enterprises in Arcadia, Ind., finds they do more than pay their way in their no-till system of 20-plus years.

There's no cash in cover crops, Ken Rulon says, just tremendous value. And if no-tillers stick to the system, they can see both yield and cost benefits in the long run.

At the Iowa Cover Crops Conference in February, the no-tiller broke down the costs of cover crops for his family’s operation in Arcadia, Ind., and the return on investment they’ve received from pairing covers with their long-term, ‘never-till’ system.

Ken stresses that his analysis is from data and assumptions for their farm, and other no-tillers may have different results based on their personal desires and farm attributes.

Freeing Up Fertility.

For Rulon Enterprises, the average cost of including cover crops in its rotation is about $14.27 per acre for seed, and $11.73 per acre for seeding operations, totaling $26 per acre (Figure 1). The Rulons use oats, radishes, clover, annual ryegrass and cereal rye, with seeding rates varying between mixtures and how they’re seeded.

Due to the size of their operation, the Rulons can only seed covers on about 60% of their 6,000 corn and soybean acres each year. In fall 2014, cover crops were seeded on 3,527 acres, and at $26 per acre the total cost of covers was almost $92,000.

But when looking at the benefits, Ken finds there’s little to no chance of not getting his $26 back (Figure 2).

“You can slice every benefit category in half and we still calculate a 50% return on investment,” he says.

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FIGURE 2. Each line

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Laura Barrera

Laura Barrera is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. Prior to joining No-Till Farmer, she served as an assistant editor for a greenhouse publication. Barrera holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Ball State University.

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