When Are Cover Crops Profitable?

Josh McGillCover Crops, Economics, Research

At 200 boxes per acre, cover crops can be profitable in Valencia orange production, according to a Citrus & Specialty Crop Expo presentation. Tara Wade and Shourish Chakravarty prepared the presentation. Wade is an assistant professor, and Chakravarty is a post-doctoral associate, both at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Southwest Florida Research and Education Center.

cover crops

The researchers noted that 200 boxes per acre is comparable to yields prior to Hurricane Irma, which damaged Florida citrus in 2017. Unfortunately, Florida hasn’t averaged 200 Valencia boxes per acre in at least the last three seasons, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA/NASS) report. USDA/NASS reported that Florida’s Valencia per-acre box yields were 119 in 2021–22, 148 in 2020–21 and 184 in 2019–2020.  See the USDA/NASS report here. (The Florida Valencia yield data is on page 9.)

Cover crops are less likely to be profitable in non-Valencia oranges, according to the presentation. These crops cost about $220 per acre. Costs include seed, fuel, labor and a no-till drill. On the other hand, savings from using cover crops are about $75.47 per acre as a result of less mowing being required.

Benefits of using cover crops include:

  • Improved soil microbial activity and soil aggregation
  • Increased total nitrogen and soil productivity
  • Reduced soil erosion and leaching

Barriers to using cover crops include the cost of seeds and a no-till seeder, and the fact that it may take years to get soil health or yield benefits.

The presentation included results of a grower survey about cover crop use. The survey had 59 responses representing 179,018 citrus acres; cover crop adoption was 41%. Growers in the survey ranked nutrient retention as the most useful cover crop attribute. A majority of responding growers, 58%, said they definitely saw changes in soil health after using cover crops.

About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large

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