By reviving an ancient practice—cover crops—American farmers are creating a niche market in Rural America
08-12-2014 // Trisha White
There’s a new opening for rural America to create jobs and make farming more future-friendly, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation. The Growing Business of Cover Crops details new business opportunities arising from a resurgence in the ancient practice of cover crops.
The Great Recession of 2008 devastated America's economy; hundreds of banks failed, entire industries fell into bankruptcy and the stock market plummeted. While recovery is well underway, Rural America continues to struggle with a declining population, shrinking labor force and high poverty rates.
However, opportunity is growing on America's farms. Over the last decade, many farmers started using cover crops—non commodity crops used to protect soil and nutrients – creating a niche market for rural entrepreneurs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports a 38 percent increase in cover crop acres from 2012 to 2013, with the average farmer willing to pay $40 per acre on cover crops. For the average-sized farm (420 acres) that means $16,800 per farm spent on cover crops each year.
The Growing Business of Cover Crops highlights the small business opportunities created by the upsurge in the use of cover crops, including crop advisers, seed production and sales, planting and even livestock grazing, with salaries reaching $62,000 per year.
“We got kind of excited about the potential for this, but seed was really hard to find,” said Keith Berns, farmer and co-owner of Green Cover Seed. He and his brother Brian run a 2,000 acre farm in Bladen, Nebraska. “We started out just selling seed to a few people, a few thousand pounds. This year, we'll have 2,500 customers in 50 states and move around eight million pounds of seed.”
As more farmers begin using cover crops, more will need support businesses to help them successfully incorporate cover crops on their farms. According to the report, cover crop entrepreneurs will not only make a living to support their families, they will improve their local economies through job creation and providing much needed services to farmers.
“This is a great way to boost the rural economy, support America’s farmers and be part of making sustainable agriculture common practice,” said Trisha White, senior agriculture policy specialist and author.