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Talking about cover crops

Discussing cover crops with your tenant farmer may not be easy

Here’s a scenario that’s becoming a common issue: You own land and have a crop farmer renting it from you. You’d like to try cover crops on those acres for the value and many benefits they can provide – but the farmer isn’t interested. It’s often difficult to continue the conversation from there.

Sarah Carlson is the Midwest cover crop research coordinator for Practical Farmers of Iowa, and counsels landowners and their farmers on this issue. She says if the farmer is hesitant, or isn’t knowledgeable about cover crops, one way to help the process along is to take advantage of educational events.
 
"I think the landowner encouraging the farmer to go to a field day, or listen to a workshop, or go to an online webinar about cover crops is a really important step," says Carlson. "And that can be with companies, NRCS, some are non-profits like us, farm organizations. Because then they see other farmers in the room who are doing cover crops or thinking about it, and see it’s normal."

Carlson says landlords should be straightforward with the discussion and clearly communicate what they want, but also be realistic in how and when changes can happen. She says compromise, and taking baby steps are a good option.

"What if we did just 20-acres of this 80-acre field, and you just tried some things out and maybe did some strips and skips so that you can have some no-cover and some cover crop," says Carlson. "And then you could check yields to make sure that there’s no issues with yield, and you’re learning management of the cover crops but it’s a smaller piece of property to deal with next spring when you have to kill the cover crop."

Carlson says usually when landowners decide to have cover crops, they cover the costs in the first couple years, but some split the cost with the tenant. There are state and federal programs that can help offset the initial expense.

Learn more about cover crops and tips to get the conversation started

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