As farmers know all too well, it's easy to get caught in the conundrum of whether they can afford to practice conservation farming, particularly on rented ground. In "One Way to Get Big Agriculture to Clean Up Its Act," Washington Post contributor Tamar Haspel explores the competing economics of no-till, cover crops, conservation, and whether or not these long-term efforts by farmers warrant more incentives, such as government subsidies, than they currently receive.
But the fact remains that farmers who opt for cover cropping are going to have to pay real money right now (and you could do a similar analysis for other practices). Long-term yield gains and cost savings are excellent, but farm expenses and mortgages and kids’ educations may not be able to wait for them.
The calculation becomes particularly difficult if you don’t own your land. Myers points out that 39 percent of farmland is rented. “Most farmers are conservation-minded,” he says, “but it’s hard to spend money on land they’re not going to have in a few years.” (Iowa farmer Ray) Gaesser puts cover crops on acreage he rents, but he has farmed most of his rented land for a couple of decades. “There are a few farms that aren’t so certain for us,” he says, “and they would be the last ones we’d invest in.”
For more information about no-till and cover crops and how to help farmers adopt these practices on their farm, read these AgWeb stories: