Economists Study Cover Crops in Citrus

Josh McGillCover Crops, Research

Economists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) recently published two studies about the adoption of cover crops in citrus. One looked at the economic feasibility of cover crop adoption for citrus growers. The other looked at the preferences and willingness of growers to incorporate cover crops into their production practices.


The studies were conducted by Tara Wade, an assistant professor of food and resource economics at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, and her colleagues.

“A lot of the benefits that come from cover crops depend on the soils you have, what issue you are trying to resolve, and the mix of cover crops you plant,” Wade said. “If you want to promote a particular process, you need to understand how growers think and what they want. It’s not enough to show that a practice works; you have to make sure you understand how choices are made in adoption if you want a practice to be widely used.” 

In the first study, the researchers conducted a survey of 79 citrus growers – 59 from Florida and 20 from Texas. In Florida, they found that about 40% of surveyed growers were already using cover crops. About half of Texas growers surveyed were already using cover crops. The growers — 36% from Florida and 30% from Texas — ranked nutrient retention in soil as the most important benefit that cover crops would provide. Pest control was also considered an important benefit by Florida growers. 

To see whether the growers would want to adopt cover crops, the survey measured willingness to pay. It found that the average willingness to pay was quite high, ranging from $476.27 per acre per year to $509.51 per acre per year. 

The researchers said it is important to look at whether the costs and benefits of adopting cover crops would ultimately be financially beneficial to growers by looking at the short-term return on investment.  

In the second study, Wade and her colleagues looked at two different types of citrus — Valencia oranges and non-Valencia oranges. They provided a cost analysis using historical data on cover crop prices, citrus crop yields and average citrus prices.  

With recent trends in yield and quality decreasing in both types of oranges, the researchers found that it would not currently be profitable in the short term to adopt cover crops. However, it would potentially be profitable for Valencia production if yields increased to the levels of Valencia oranges being produced before 2017’s Hurricane Irma.  

With the benefits to soil and water health clear and a potential desire among citrus growers to adopt the practice, the next research step necessary, Wade said, is to find out the long-term return on investment for growers using cover crops.  

“What cover crops can do is improve soil health, which creates healthier trees that require less inputs,” Wade said. “After several years, there may be higher yields.”

Source: UF/IFAS

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