An Indiana farmer once mentioned that his cover crop always survived the winter as long as the seed was free.
While this particular farmer was engaged in trials with Purdue University, perhaps the same thinking applies to USDA NRCS funding. According to Illinois NRCS conservation agronomist Brett Roberts, farmer interest in NRCS' funding guidelines for cover crops is growing significantly.
In recent years, farmers could receive approximately $40-$60/acre reimbursement for planting cover crops, depending on the cover crop planted. "There's no way the payment rate would have limited anyone from putting in a cover crop," Roberts notes. The rate takes burndown and seeding into account.
Roberts says most farmers limit cover crop seed costs to $20/acre. "This is sort of the tipping point on what farmers are willing to spend on cover crops," he notes.
Nationally, NRCS is implementing a different method for determining payment rates for conservation practices. Previously, payment rates were determined by each state, Roberts notes. The new method being implemented is to establish payment rates for conservation practices by region. Cover crops are part of a suite of practices that will be implemented using the new regional payment rates.
Roberts expects most of the details will be ironed out in mid-January. Funding will be provided through NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
What's in the Bag
When buying cover crop seed, conservation specialist Mike Plumer says it pays to know what's in the bag.
Not all rye grasses are created equal. There is a big difference in varieties. Some of the most cost effective seed options are not marked with any variety.
Additionally, variety mixes can be very inexpensive. However, each variety will grow differently. Plus, it can become a nightmare when trying to select the proper mix of herbicides for burndown.
If the variety is stated on the bag, Plumer says that's a big step up. While it's not completely guaranteed, it's usually fairy accurate if the company is willing to mark it.
The gold standard of cover crop seed is certified. Marked with blue tags on the bag, you know what you're getting, and, more importantly, you'll know how to terminate it when the time comes.