Regardless of where you conduct your farming operation, the notion of changing your methods can be daunting. We at Merit or Myth have seen this time and time again firsthand. The deeper we dig into the S.D. farming community (and the farming community at large), the more we see a fundamental truth that defines what it means to be human: change isn’t easy.
The same resistance to change that our brothers and sisters who practice conventional farming methods experience is the same resistance to change in our own lives. I think for both sides (conventional and regenerative farming alike), realizing and acknowledging this reality is the first step to starting the conversation… though it may take more than simply a humble heart and an open mind to incite change.
We’ve found that one of the biggest hurdles to adopting regenerative farming practices seems to be the convoluted opinions surrounding it. The supporters of conventional farming methods crank out their confirmation biases (which can be found all over the internet) and those on the other side do the same for their practice (which, oh by the way, can be found all over the internet as well).
Regardless of opinions, the true answer in the debate of conventional vs regenerative farming appears very rarely in measurable data. It’s not tough to understand why – costs for inputs fluctuate across counties and across seasons. Weather patterns that affect bottom lines are largely shifting and unpredictable.
Maybe the most convincing answer rests not in the details, but in the big picture. We’d like to take a look at the overall trends for one specific practice that heavily influences the regenerative side of things: cover crops.
For four straight years, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) has conducted surveys on cover crop production. Of the over 1,000 respondents in their most recent study, 34% claimed that cover crops increased profitability. Not necessarily that large of an endorsement, but compare it to the other numbers – 26% of respondents claimed cover crops don’t affect profitability one way or the other. 35% said they did not currently have enough data while a mere 6% claimed cover crops decrease profitability.
These results are also mirrored in similarly structured surveys, one of which included the following statement and asked for respondent’s opinions on its validity:
Using cover crops can reduce yield variability associated with weather extremes such as strong, intense storms and droughts, etc..”
Those surveyed responded:
Strongly agreed – 30%
Agreed – 37%
Neutral – 28%
Disagreed – 6%
That’s 67% in favor and only 6% in opposition… but it gets better. In even further studies conducted by SARE and Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC)’s, it was found that, in corn production, cover crops lead to an increase of 2 bushels-per-acre in year 1. By year 4, the increase in bushel-per-acre increased to 8.3. Soybean yields have seen similar increases when it comes to cover crop implementation.
As Laura Barrera, managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide Magazine states:
If you still doubt the positive impact of cover crops, consider that:
• Cover crop expert Dave Robinson found an average $150-per-acre advantage by using cover crops.
• Ohio no-tiller David Brandt can grow 200-bushel corn on just 50 pounds of nitrogen, thanks to his legume cover crops.
• Grazing cover crops has allowed Gabe Brown to reduce inputs so much it only costs him $1.44 to grow a bushel of corn.”
Cover crops are just one aspect of regenerative farming practices, but when combined with a more natural approach, the evidence is starting to come in loud and clear.
Though it will always be human nature to resist change, with issues like this, we can either choose to listen, or we can ignore it. At Merit or Myth, we encourage farmers to dig a little deeper and see the truth play out in their own operation. Do you know with certainty what cover crops could do for you?
Knowledge is power,