June 15, 2021

CoverCress offers value of cover crops plus income from selling grain

MT. PULASKI, Ill. — CoverCress is a new cash crop that also provides the benefits of a cover crop.

Developed from pennycress, CoverCress is a value-added cover crop.

“It is a yellow seed variety that is low in fiber and high in oil which can be used as a renewable fuel and the meal can be used as a feed for poultry,” said Chris Aulbach, agronomy and farmer relations lead for CoverCress Inc.

“With a 1,500-pound yield of CoverCress per acre, farmers can net $50 per acre from the sale of the CoverCress grain,” said Aulbach during a field day at Martin Family Farms.

“This field was planted towards the end of September,” the agronomist said. “Our best comfort level for success of getting CoverCress establishment is some tillage since seed to soil contact is paramount with a good rain.”

The roots of CoverCress grow quite rapidly in the fall.

“We’d like to see the plant get to about the size of the palm of my hand in the fall,” Aulbach said. “By mid-March to early April, the rapid growth starts as the plant bolts and starts to branch out.”

Plants growing in the research plot were in the flowering stage.

“There is some pod set and this plot will be harvested in about 30 to 35 days,” Aulbach said. “These plants will turn to a yellow color and then brown and we like to harvest them at about 18% moisture which is when the seed pods will thresh out easily.”

On The Farm

The Martins have been growing CoverCress research plots on their farm for the past four years.

“We’ve dived pretty deep into soil health and cover crops so we thought our ideas aligned with CoverCress,” said Derek Martin who farms with his brother, Doug, and their dad, Jeff.

“As Doug, dad and I go down this path of soil health, soil biology and regenerative farming, we’ve seen tremendous results in our soil,” Derek said. “Cover crops are a practice we’re already doing, and if we can add another cover crop that could potentially generate a revenue of $50 per acre, that’s a win-win moving forward.”

The Martins have planted CoverCress on different fields on their farm, and they have planted both corn and soybeans after it has been harvested.

“We haven’t seen any yield drag,” Derek said. “We planted corn behind it last year in the middle of June and the corn did really good.”

A vertical tillage tool with an air seeder can be used to plant CoverCress.

“That’s how we seed all our cover crops,” Derek said. “Right behind the combine we go with a vertical tillage tool and blow the seed on, and even though CoverCress is a tiny seed, we will be able to seed it with the equipment we have.”

For harvesting CoverCress, farmers can use a combine with a draper head.

“We will make zero machinery purchases to fit this crop into the rotation for our farm,” Derek said.

“As we have gotten more comfortable with cover crops and we have learned more about soil health and biology, the more diverse crops you can grow the better off you are,” he said. “I think CoverCress provides another cover crop and potentially a third cash crop that can be a benefit to a lot of people in the Midwest.”

On The Grow

“Our goal is to be on 50,000 acres in central Illinois with a target area from Bloomington, south to the Mt Vernon area,” Aulbach said. “Now we are building farmer awareness and working with agreements for end users. In the short term, the grain will be going into poultry feed.”

The company is looking for fields with low weed pressure of winter annuals such as chickweed and henbit.

“We don’t have a method to control weeds today,” Aulbach said. “In a few years we hope to have the ability to apply an ALS-type mode of action herbicide.”

Farmers will have a contract to grow CoverCress.

“Growers will plant the crop and harvest it and we will be in partnership with the grower,” Aulbach said. “Growers will know where their market is and the price they’ll be paid and we’ll be sharing in the risk with the grower.”

“We will start writing contracts with growers in January to February 2022 with the big launch in the fall of 2022,” said Mike DeCamp, COO of CoverCress, Inc. “Our goal by 2030 is for CoverCress to be on 3 million acres in Illinois and into Indiana, Ohio and Missouri.”

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

Martha Blum

Field Editor