New cover crop provides added income

CoverCress is developed from the native pennycress. These three plants show what the crop looks like as it grows in the spring. This new crop provides a cover crop for fields as well as a cash crop for oil and meal. CoverCress is harvested with a combine using a small seed setting.

CHICAGO — CoverCress is a cover crop that farmers also can harvest and market as a cash crop.

“Soil health is an investment that you make for the long term and we have something that delivers that and creates earnings,” said Jerry Steiner, CEO of CoverCress Inc.

“We hear tremendous conversation about the benefits of cover crops, but yet they’re only adopted in the Midwest on a small amount of area,” Steiner said during a presentation at the CSS 2018 & Seed Expo, organized by the American Seed Trade Association.

“I believe the fundamental reason comes down to economics because it is difficult when times are tight to make an investment for the long term in soil health,” he said. “We want to break that.”

Farmers in the Midwest manage a very productive corn and soybean rotation in their fields.

“But it has something unnatural, half of the year the land is bare and you don’t see that in nature,” Steiner said. “Our crop grows in a different season of the year, during different weather variables and adds diversity.”

CoverCress is developed from the native pennycress.

“We love the agronomy of this plant because it is very winter tolerant and it’s the first thing to grow in the spring,” Steiner said. “We used gene editing to change the composition, so we can plant something that looks like pennycress, harvest something that looks like canola and the oil and meal have real value in the marketplace.”

Steiner is excited about the opportunity for farmers to plant CoverCress after corn harvest and harvest it prior to soybean planting the following spring.

“We’re only in our first breeding cycle and the value of the oil and meal coming out of the crusher at today’s commodity prices is $200 per acre and we see that growing to $300 within the first decade,” he said. “That increase will come from more yield and a second generation of oil that has more value.”

The company has worked with about 20 farmers who have experimented with growing CoverCress on their farms.

“With a cornstalk chopping header, farmers are seeding CoverCress without tillage or after one tillage trip,” Steiner said. “Whatever the farmer wants to do seems to work.”

In the fall, CoverCress will put down roots.

“That allows it to get a tremendous jump in the spring and then it can be harvested with a combine using a small seed setting in the spring,” Steiner said. “Farmers are no-tilling soybeans right behind the CoverCress harvest.”

There are two factors, Steiner said, that will drive the adoption of CoverCress — maturity and yield.

“Now we’re harvesting plots towards the end of May and there’s a segment of farmers that are clearly interested because it’s a better cover crop that what they are doing today,” he said. “We’re confident we can move the maturity to mid-May and that would dramatically expand the interest.”

Over the last two years, CoverCress has yielded about 1,500 pounds per acre.

“This is a big year for us because we’re going to see for the third time, leading lines with about 1,500-pound yields,” Steiner said. “And we’re starting our foundation seed production with plantings this fall.”

Several universities have worked with the company to develop CoverCress.

“Illinois State University was the first to come on board with us, and we wouldn’t be here today with CoverCress without the help of the universities,” Steiner said.

The company is seeking farmers who interested in planting CoverCress on their farms.

“We are also hiring and we’re working to build out the remainder of our value chain,” Steiner said.

“Today is the International Day of Soil, which is a great day to introduce CoverCress as something that can help farmers build and protect soil while at the same time diversify, add income and feed people,” he said.

For more information about CoverCress, go to www.covercress.com.

Martha Blum can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 117, or marthablum@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Blum.

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