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Beyond the Economics of Prevent Plant Cover Crops

By David Bau, Extension Educator

Wet cool spring of 2019 left many farmers cramming to get their crops planted.  Many were unable to get all the crop planted on time and continued planting even after final planting dates lowering their level of insurance coverage.  Many fields were not planted at all and many acres applied to prevented planting acres.

Some reports show close to 20 million acres in the United States were prevented planted acres. With 11 million prevented plant acres for corn and 4.5 million prevented plant acres for soybeans. This created a problem never experienced by many farmers, what to do with these idle acres.

Some used tillage to control weeds, some used tillage and chemicals to control weeds, others just used chemical control while many others planted cover crops. All of these weed control systems have costs associated with them.

The majority of farmers carry crop insurance that will provide income for these prevented planted acres. If a farmer had 75% coverage on 190 bushels APH, the insurance payment would be $313.50 at 80% $334.40 and at 85% $355.30 acre. If a farmer had applied fertilizer at $120 per acre and rent @ $186 and $40 for weed control this totals $346 which mean a loss at 75 and 80 coverage levels, but a small profit at 85 percent insurance coverage level. If a farmer had not applied fertilizer yet all three scenarios would generate a profit.

For soybeans 75% coverage at 52 bushels APH, the insurance payment would be $223.24, at 80% $238.12, and at 85% $253.00. With rent costing $186 and weed control $40 per acre for a total of $226 all three insurance levels would be close to covering costs. Farmers could also chose to plant cover crops, with tillage, seed cost, and weed control. Costs would total more than $75 per acre totaling $261 for cover crop acres which generate a loss at all levels, USDA provided a $15 payment for prevented planted acres with a cover crop planted by August 1st, that would make the 85% cover level slightly profitable.

There are other long-term benefits to planting cover crops beyond the dollars and cents.
  1. Cover crops can improve organic matter in soil profile. Cover crops adds organic matter to soil, which can enhance long-term productivity.
  2. Cover crops can help with weed control. Cover crops helps prevent contributions to weed seed bank, benefiting long-term weed management.
  3. Cover crops can improve soil productivity. Cover crop helps prevent fallow syndrome which can improve yields the following year if left unmanaged. It expands the crop rotation for one year. Cover crops helps control or reduce soil erosion.
  4. Cover Crop are allowed to be harvest as forages after September 1 of this year which is helpful to livestock producers bottom line.
These are just some of the benefits of cover crops, although it may be hard to calculate the economic value of them.

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