Mike Roberts

Cover Crops Help Soil, but What Are the Long-Term Benefits?

Cover crops are an investment in soil health, and many citrus growers are looking to utilize cover crops to improve the health of their citrus trees. The thought is that healthier trees will be better able to combat citrus greening and other diseases, and to bounce back faster after hurricane damage. Research is still ongoing as to whether using cover crops can be another strategy to improve Florida citrus production, but it is well-documented that cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil, reduce nutrient and pesticide leaching, reduce erosion, and combat weeds. UF/IFAS economists recently released the results of two studies, led by Economics Assistant Professor Tara Wade, concerning the use of cover crops in citrus—the first addressed growers’ opinions towards using cover crops, and the second looked at the economic feasibility of adopting the practice.

Grower Opinions on Cover Crops

In the first study, the economics team surveyed 59 Florida citrus growers, plus growers from Texas. About 40 percent of the Florida growers were already utilizing cover crops; those growers maintained that retaining nutrients in the soil and pest control were the most important benefits realized through the use of cover crops in citrus groves.

For those Florida growers not already utilizing cover crops in their groves, respondents maintained they would be willing to pay anywhere from $476.27 per acre per year to $509.51 per acre per year to adopt the practice of using cover crops.

Economic Feasibility of Adopting Cover Crops

Wade and her team looked at both Valencia and non-Valencia oranges to provide a cost analysis of adopting cover crops. They used historical data on cover crop prices, citrus crop yields, and average prices for citrus. They found that, in the short term, it would not be profitable to adopt cover crops, given current declines in citrus yield and quality. However, the team maintained the use of cover crops would have the potential to be profitable if Valencia orange yields returned to where they were prior to Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The bottom line from these two studies is that Florida citrus growers are keen to try cover crops, but that the long-term benefits need to be known so that growers can feel confident in putting money towards the practice. It’s well known that cover crops have long-term benefits for soil that reduce the costs of inputs, but whether that leads to an increase in citrus tree health and production needs to be proven.

BIO: Mike Roberts is the Vice President of the Frostproof, Fla.-based Griffin Fertilizer Co. Roberts joined the company in November 2011. He has spent the majority of his career in the fertilizer/agchem industry. Roberts earned a Bachelor of Science degree in citrus production from Florida Southern College in Lakeland. For more information, visit griffinfertilizer.com.

This column is sponsored by Griffin Fertilizer Co., and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.

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