Closeup of cover crops

The Research Center for Farming Innovation has developed a cover crop simulator that helps with important decisions in implementing the conservation practice on your farm. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

April 7 webinar helps you track the economic value of cover crops

March 25, 2021

By Darcy Maulsby, an ISA Communications contributor

It’s easy to calculate the costs of planting cover crops, but what about the long-term advantages of cover crops that can’t be neatly quantified? The Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) new Cover Crop Economic Simulator can help you run the numbers.

“The benefits of cover crops are cumulative, and they are variable,” said Suzanne Fey, an ISA data analyst. “This makes them more difficult to quantify on an annual basis, but these benefits are still very real.”

“While there’s a wealth of information about these benefits online, who has the time to wade through it all and figure out how it applies to you farm? We did a lot of this background research for you through this simulator,” Fey said.

Tune in Wed., April 7 to learn how to make the most of this powerful, free, online tool. During this Innovation TO GO! webinar, you can ask questions about the Cover Crop Economic Simulator tool and receive live answers from ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) staff.

The 30-minute “Utilizing the Cover Crop Simulator for Economic Success” webinar will be offered twice through Zoom, at 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and again from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Register today! 

Give the Cover Crop Economic Simulator a try

You don’t have to wait for the webinar to try out the Cover Crop Economic Simulator.

This easy-to-navigate site lets you enter your field size (in acres), and the cash crop (corn or soybeans) you’ll plant after the cover crop. You can also enter the average yield of the crop for this field, the market price for the grain and the tool provides the basic cost to establish four of the most common cover crops in Iowa.

“All these categories can be edited, so you can more closely match the numbers to your farming operation,” Fey said.

The dynamic simulator also lets you run the numbers for income opportunities related to cover crops, including grazing, harvesting forage or, in some cases, harvesting seed. It shows some key cost mitigation opportunities related to cover crops, including state and federal assistance and new EcoSystem Services payments. The simulator can also assign a dollar value if you select cost mitigation opportunities like improved organic matter, improved water retention and reduced erosion.

“Erosion reduction is one of the important benefits of cover crops, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” Fey said. “The rate of erosion differs significantly by location. That’s why the Cover Crop Simulator offers two maps for estimating your location’s erosion reduction.”      

As you enter data in the Cover Crop Simulator, you can track net costs and net revenues. Any changes on a page will instantly update the net return value and sensitivity analysis grid values.

Added Value for the Greater Good

The ISA team worked with an advisory panel of farmers across Iowa to fine-tune the Cover Crop Simulator.

“After sharing a beta version of the simulator with an advisory group, they felt the Cover Crop Simulator needed to include information regarding the big picture of cover crop economics,” Fey said. “That’s why we developed a page on the Added Value for the Greater Good.”

Fey acknowledges there are no widely recognized per-acre values for reduced water purification costs, reduced water pollution, safer water for recreation and wildlife, reduced flooding, reduced insurance costs, benefits for future generations and other advantages that come from cover crops.

“These values do not impact the net returns on page 1 of the simulator, but they are included as tangible benefits in the Added Value for the Greater Good section,” Fey said.

The Cover Crop Simulator also includes a convenient user guide and other online resources related to cover crop management, Fey added.  “Our goal is to provide farmers with a quick, easy-to-use tool you can customize to reflect your own operation. This lets you address the dynamics of yield variability, market price fluctuations and more on net return.”

Learn more about how the Cover Crop Economic Simulator tool during one of the April 7 webinars.

Register Now