Thought Leadership Articles Cover crop conundrums

Cover crop conundrums: Growing your way to soil health and economic returns

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Vetch is a legume and a very useful winter cover crop

By Christophe Labyt

Cover crops have long been lauded for their potential to enhance soil health, productivity, and carbon sequestration.

Despite these benefits, many farmers still encounter obstacles when it comes to adopting this practice. Challenges such as designing rotations that align with cover crops, increased costs, and uncertainty around economic returns can deter farmers from trying cover crops for the first time.


A comprehensive large-scale tracking study by Kynetec, which examined 20 countries and 30 crops, revealed that first-time cover crop growers are likely to encounter these challenges.


Specifically, the study found that 60% of first-time cover crop growers in a sample of European Union spring crop growers anticipate continuing the practice, while 40% of first-time growers remain unconvinced.

Interestingly, the majority of farmers with a couple of years of experience growing cover crops - around 90% - indicate that they will continue with the practice. This suggests that once farmers overcome initial challenges and start to realize the benefits of cover crops, they are more likely to adopt this practice in the long run.

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Barriers to cover crops

One of the primary barriers for first-time cover crop growers is designing rotations that are compatible with cover crops. Cover crops have varying growth rates and rooting depths, and farmers must meticulously plan their crop rotation to ensure that the cover crop does not impede the growth of the cash crop. A well-designed rotation allows the benefits of cover crops to be maximized, but this takes time and effort to develop.

Counting costs

Another significant challenge for first-time cover crop growers is the additional costs associated with this practice. Cover crops require more seed, fertilizer, and labor, and farmers must carefully consider the return on investment before deciding to adopt the practice. We should recognize that farmers need to be convinced of the economic benefits of cover crops before they invest in them.

Uncertainty around economic returns is yet another significant barrier for first-time cover crop growers. Although cover crops have been shown to enhance soil health and crop yields, their economic benefits are not always evident. Farmers need to comprehend the potential financial advantages of cover crops, such as reduced input costs and increased yields, before making an informed decision about whether to adopt the practice.

To address these challenges, we suggest that governments and industry stakeholders provide support to farmers to help them adopt cover crops. For instance, funding could be provided for research and development to improve the economic viability of cover crops. In some instances, this is already happening, but there’s room for improvement.

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