Are Cover Crop Mixtures Cost Effective?
Organic farmer collaborators in the “Cover Crop Cocktails” research project discuss why cover crop mixtures can be cost effective compared to monoculture cover crops.
- Hi, my name is Joseph Amsili, a researcher at Penn State.
For the past five years, we've been working with a team of farmers, scientists, and extension educators to learn more about cover crop mixtures.
For decades, farmers have used cover crops to improve soil health and suppress weeds.
Usually, just one cover crop is planted as a monoculture.
But recently, we've seen more and more farmers experiment with cover crop mixtures of three to more than a dozen species.
We've been using controlled experiments and on-farm research to help farmers understand the benefits and challenges of using cover crop mixtures.
In this video, farmer collaborators share their thoughts about the cost-effectiveness of using cover crop mixtures.
- Yeah, I think they can be cost-effective if they are giving, all the different species, are giving a benefit.
I know on our farm here with the trial that we're doing, the mixture which had multiple species was more expensive than let's say a straight red clover, and so therefore, I need to see an added benefit to it.
I'd like to see either equal yields or an increased yields by having those extra species out there, or some other type of soil health benefit.
Or weed suppression benefit, some other kind of benefit.
So I think it can be cost-effective if we see added benefits.
If we're looking just straight yield, if there's not any difference and we're not seeing a whole lot of other benefits to the soil, soil health and those things, then it would be like well, maybe we should just stick to planting a single species.
And so right now, that's still what I'm trying to figure out.
Is there the added benefit of having these other plants out there?
'Cause it would look like on our farm yield might be fairly similar.
It might not be making a big yield difference and of course we're trying to make money and be sustainable here on the farm.
And so, is it worth the extra money for seed?
That would be the question, and I'm still waiting to kind of figure out if all the other benefits from these mixtures are truly benefits and worth the money.
- I think the cost is generally gonna be more.
Whether or not it's worth it, I guess depends on how many failures you have along the way of a species or two in the mix.
If you have a couple years where you have one or two species that just don't do, and yet you have two others in there, I guess it's worth it to at least have something there.
Maybe it's not the ones that you want necessarily.
Maybe it's not the legumes that are doing good.
Maybe it's the grasses or the brassicas that are doing good.
But in the organic system, we seem, after I've been in it for a while now, I see that there's less need to add additional nitrogen than there was in the early days of my organic farming experience.
It seems like we're able to grow a crop with less additional nitrogen in the form of manure, and even less additional nitrogen in the form of a legume.
And that's a benefit to us because we can't just reach for the shelf and pour it in the tank and pour it on.
On the other hand, can we always count on it?
Well, I don't know (laughs).
So we like to put some manure on and make sure it's there just in case the cover crop doesn't do its thing or doesn't survive the winter well and so forth.
I've been able to use manures put on when we plant the cover crop, and that works really well because you eliminate that step of applying it on when you're really rushed on a late spring, and you gotta do your tillage work.
So you gotta do manure and tillage and all the stuff.
So it's nice to have that step already done, and it's also nice because in the fall, late summer, and in the fall, ground is generally pretty firm and dry, so you're not boring around in the mud in the process of spreading manure too.
Or you stockpiled manure on a pile and it's soggy, slimy, all around the pile, and you're trying to load it and work it and get up into the fields when it's a little bit wet.
And when maybe you shouldn't be up in the fields, so eliminates that maybe being there when you shouldn't be sometimes.