Four years ago Kevin Elmy wasn’t happy with the rate of return he was getting on his canola crop.
Inputs had gone through the roof to around $350 an acre when he factored in seed, fertilizer, chemicals and overhead.
At $10-per-bushel canola he needed 35 bushels an acre just to break even. He realized there were other crops he could grow without having to spend $350 an acre — and one of them was cover crops.
Elmy, owner of Friendly Acres Seed Farm near Saltcoats, Saskatchewan, had been experimenting with cover crop mixes for a few years before he decided to fully implement them as part of his long term rotation.
He started by replacing canola with a cover crop, at around $25 an acre for seed, that he harvested as green feed, and then seeded winter triticale into better-quality soil and a better seedbed with less inputs.
No-tiller Kevin Elmy has experimented with different cover-crop mixes that include radish, Japanese millet, proso millet, sugarbeet, chicory, crimson clover and sunflower, using them to replace some canola acreage. The Saltcoats, Saskatchewan grower hasn’t bought nitrogen (N) fertilizer for 6 years, and his total fertilizer bill has gone from $60-$70 an acre down to $10 per acre, on average.
The mixes Elmy has experimented with have included radish, Japanese millet, proso millet, sugarbeet, chicory, crimson clover and sunflower. Elmy uses cover crops to achieve a number of goals, besides just saving input costs — which he has definitely done.