A common theme at last week’s 2015 Soil Health Summit in St. Louis was the need to quantify the benefits for farmers of using cover crops.
Purdue University economics professor Dr. Wally Tyner is trying to do just that. “I’ve worked in a lot of different areas in economics and this is the hardest nut to crack,” he said. “Because it’s long term, it involves risk issues, it’s hard to quantify, it’s hard to control … but we’ve got to start to try!”
Tyner was doing a study on the economics of harvesting corn stover for biofuels or animal feed, when the question of using cover crops to be able to harvest more stover sustainably. “The answer is yes,” he said. “Cover crops will do more environmental protection than the stover actually does.”
Tyner’s current research is a cost-benefit analysis on using cover crops in different farming operations and soil types. “We have two students working on this now, we’re trying to get five fields and five years of data from every farm,” comparing farms using cover crop against those not using them.
“Cover crops today are where no-till was 30 years ago,” says Tyner. “If we want to get a significant portion of the farm acres doing cover crops, we’re going to have to show some economic benefits, or at least show that the costs are low and the soil health benefits are huge.”
Listen to my interview with Dr. Tyner here: Interview with Dr. Wally Tyner, Purdue University