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Embracing new practices can be daunting without guarantee of economic gain. While the results haven’t occurred overnight, Gail Fuller, Emporia, Kan., is beginning to see the potential for more profit by significantly cutting inputs.
“The payoff is lower inputs and protecting the most valuable resource we have – soil,” he says. That attention to soil health has helped him maintain steady yields and experience some increases. His profit per acre is also steady to slightly up.
Fuller says hard data is difficult to come by, but he gets calls from farmers across the central plains reporting similar yield increases.
“One producer near Sedgwick, Kan., has yield maps that show a significant yield increase from cover crops he planted two years ago,” he says.
Many farmers have told Fuller there is a visible yield difference in parts of fields where they didn’t plant cover crops.
Even with boosts in yields and profit per acre, Fuller hesitates to declare an overall profit increase, particularly because he experiments so much.
The savings are what really add up. Fuller points to his lowered fertility costs – 25% last year and an additional 40% anticipated in some fields this year. He not only needs to apply far less nitrogen, but his needs for phosphorus and lime are significantly reduced, as well.
“Cover and companions crops essentially grow our own fertilizer,” he says. “We’re starting to be fairly successful.”
In particular, Fuller’s soil tests have shown gains in nutrient value per acre. He points to fields with one or no cover crops banking $50-70/acre of nutrients. In comparison, fields with two or more cover crops show $85-300/acre in stored nutrients. Adding cattle grazing to the cover crops boosts the nutrient values even higher, he says.
Combined with reductions in labor, equipment, chemicals and fuel, these savings give Fuller more financial freedom.
He also has lowered his financial risk by including more crops in his rotation and integrating livestock grazing into his cover- and companion-cropping plan.
“That lowers the risk further because you now have the option of grazing if the crop fails,” he says. “You can still realize some income from it.”