Net Returns to Cereal Rye Preceding No-till Corn in Integrated Iowa Operations

Alejandro Plastina, Jyotsna Acharya, Fernando Mauri Marcos, Md. Rasel Parvej, Mark Licht, Alison E. Robertson
January 2023  [22-WP 641] (Revised)

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Plastina, A., J. Acharya, F.M. Marcos, M.R. Parvej, M. Licht, and A.E. Robertson. 2023. "Net Returns to Cereal Rye Preceding No-till Corn in Integrated Iowa Operations." Working paper 22-WP 641. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


Unproven economic returns at the farm level are a major barrier to large-scale adoption of cover crops. The objective of this study is to evaluate the short-run net returns to producers implementing a cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) cover crop preceding the no-till corn (Zea mays L.) phase of a US Midwest corn-soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] rotation in an integrated crop and cow-calf operation. We use experimental agronomic data from field experiments in three locations in Iowa in a partial budget framework to estimate the net returns to cereal rye for alternative scenarios. Results indicate that net returns to cereal rye in the absence of grazing average -$50.07 per acre and are negative for 82.2% of the treatments, while net returns under partial grazing average -$10.21 per acre and are negative for 57.1% of the treatments. Broadcast cereal rye tends to produce higher biomass and larger net cost savings in the livestock enterprise compared to drilled cereal rye, but it also results in higher corn yield penalties. In the no-grazing scenario, net losses for broadcast cereal rye are $67.16 per acre larger, on average, than for drilled cereal rye. Our findings should raise awareness about the low probability of obtaining positive annual net returns to cereal rye in Iowa in the absence of sizable cost-share payments, and inform policymakers about the potential for improving the cost-effectiveness of cost-share programs by incentivizing drilling and penalizing broadcasting cereal rye in the program design when the biomass will not be grazed.