Purdue University Graduate School
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Exploring the Effects of Cover Crop Use on Farm Profitability in Central Indiana

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posted on 2020-05-02, 02:51 authored by Megan N. HughesMegan N. Hughes
Cover crop use provides a myriad of benefits to soil health. Despite strong agronomic evidence of the benefits of using cover crops, farmers have been slow to adopt cover crop systems. Surveys show that this is due to a lack of understanding on how cover crop use will impact the farm, and limited economic analysis on the effects of cover crop use on the farm.
In this thesis, a variable-rate nitrogen study was analyzed to determine the relationship between applied nitrogen fertilizer and corn yields, and how a cover crop treatment impacts that relationship. Data were obtained from a case farm in Central Indiana. Production information was then translated into a partial budget to see how the use of the different cover crop treatments impacted net return per acre for corn production on the farm. Net returns were analyzed using both historical corn and nitrogen prices and stochastic modelling.
Results showed that the final impact on farm net return per acre associated with adoption of a cover crop system varies among cover crop species. Implementing annual rye resulted in a negative change to net return; while cereal rye and an oats and radish blend resulted in a positive change to net return. When additional benefits of cover crop use; such as drought tolerance, carbon content, and erosion reduction; are included, all three cover crop species resulted in a substantial increase in net return. This information will be of interest to farmers as a source to draw upon when making decisions regarding their own farms. Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between cover crop use and farm profitability, particularly for farms at the early stages of adoption.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Agricultural Economics

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Michael Langemeier

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Craig Dobbins

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Eileen Kladivko