Cost of Cereal Rye and Vetch Cover Crop

Even though our winter cover crop of rye and vetch did not germinate well, I figured I’d go ahead and lay out its cost so we could compare it with the cost of our summer cover crop of sorghum sudan and cowpeas.  Below is the cost for drilling rye and vetch seed into about 22 acres of our neighbor’s fields (where we grew sorghum sudan and cowpeas) plus about 3 acres of our own former grass pasture.  We bought enough seed for 27 acres just in case we ran out.  We planted on Labor Day weekend 2011.    

Seeding rate:  Rye at 40 lbs per acre; Vetch at 20 lbs per acre. 

Seed Cost = $1,284.  (20 – 55 lb. bags of rye at $17.30 per bag, 11 – 50 lb. bags of vetch at $83 per bag, vetch inoculant = $25)

Mycorrhizal Inoculant = $388 (11 lbs)

Drill Rental = $200

Diesel = $22 (~ 5 gallons)

Labor = $160 (8 hours at $20 per hour)

Total = $2,054 or about $82 per acre (25 acres total) Sorghum sudan & cowpeas cost $70 per acre, but did not have mycorrhizal inoculant.

New Seed Supplier

Myco inoculant (top), vetch inoculant (right), cereal rye seed (bottom), vetch seed (left)

We bought the seed from Sam Swarey, a seed rep for Pennsylvania-based King’s Agri Seeds.  Mr. Swarey is Amish and lives close to us.  We’re glad we found a knowledgeable seed salesman that can supply us with just about any seed we’d like.  King’s Agri Seeds is focused on grazing and cover crops, which fits us well.  Even though we can’t pick up the phone and call Mr. Swarey, we’re glad we found him and his fantastic customer service.   

Vetch’s Low Price

The vetch seed cost would have been much more expensive, closer to $200 per bag, but Mr. Swarey had bags of last year’s vetch left over and sold them to us at cost.  Yay!

Vetch Inoculant

This inoculant is bacteria that forms nodules on vetch roots and fixes nitrogen from the air.  When the vetch dies (we’ll kill it next spring), the nitrogen will be released into the soil and made available for the next crop.  Very healthy soil might already have the bacteria, but since our soil is so lacking in organic matter and soil life, we thought it was wise to spend $25 and coat the seeds with it.

Mycorrhizal Fungi Inoculant

We bought this from AgVerra and mixed it with the seeds with a little milk before filling the seed drill.  Mycorrhizal fungi are amazing creatures.  They colonize plant roots and make the area around the roots acidic so nutrients like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc will be attracted to the roots and will enter the plant for nourishment.  Cool, huh?  The fungi have a mutually beneficial relationship with plants because they help feed plants minerals, and the plants feed the fungi goodies made during photosysthesis.  These fungi are also responsible for making a soil component called glomalin.  As the fungi die, the glomalin is sloughed off into the soil.  We want more glomalin in our soil because it’s 40% carbon, and it gives the soil nice fluff and keeps stored soil carbon from escaping.  It’s tough stuff, and it’s exactly what our soil needs.  We decided to spend the money to repopulate our fields with these very beneficial fungi.  This should be a one-time cost.

Cost Comparison with Sorghum Sudan & Cowpeas

The Rye and Vetch cost was over $80 per acre, and the sorghum sudan and cowpeas cost was around $70 per acre.  The sorghum & cowpeas did not include the mycorrhizal inoculant, but we got a very good deal on the vetch price. With our poor rye and vetch germination, we estimate that half the seed did not germinate.  So, about $1,000 of this cover crop price was spent in vain.  We believe the cause of poor germination was the combination of planting into very fluffy soil right before a tropical storm dumped 10 inches of rain.  We learned our “grand” lesson and  for sure won’t make these mistakes again!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rich on November 25, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    I was talking to my father the other day about vetch, and he said that my grandfather had a field that had a bad vetch weed problem back in the ’50’s. Nothing they did could get rid of the vetch (this was before herbicides were available to control vetch).

    Sometimes, the amount of vetch was low enough that the elevator would take it, but my father spent one summer cleaning the vetch out of the wheat with a seed cleaner so they could sell the wheat (and he also might of sold the vetch seed somewhere).

    That tells me that your seed is probably still going to be viable next winter, so it might not be as much of a loss.

    The same might be said about your rye, winter rye is supposed to be able to germinate at a pretty low temperature (32 degrees ??), so it might still come up either this winter or next spring. Like vetch, it can also be a weed problem in wheat fields, so if it can withstand a summer of discing, chiseling, and cultivation, some of it might also come up next year if it doesn’t this year.

    Did you happen to do a soil test before you planted your rye? When I plant winter wheat, if a starter fertilizer (small amount of N and/or P) is put down before planting, you can see the difference in the stand in the fall before it goes dormant. But, a starter fertilizer isn’t always needed and sometimes wheat without a starter can “catch up” in the spring. So, your rye might look better next spring than it looks now.


    • Hi Rich, I can’t imagine the amount of time it took to clean vetch out of wheat! I would’ve thought twice about planting vetch if these fields are going to be future cash crop fields. But since they’re going to be pasture, I’m less concerned about vetch becoming a weed – we want a diverse pasture. I heard the weed problem is extra bad with “common” vetch, but it can be controlled with newer varieties of “hairy” vetch. We planted Purple Bounty hairy vetch.

      I heard Gary Zimmer speak this summer. He planted vetch a couple of years ago and said he might as well have stamped “vetch” on his farm deed. He’s organic and can’t get the vetch out of his crop fields now. So it’s still a problem for sure, especially without roundup. Vetch’s big advantage is the amount of nitrogen it produces, so I’m excited to see how my corn and maters respond in the veggie garden next season after I plow down all the vetch.

      I’m thinking about adjusting down the $1,000 loss estimate. It does look like more rye and vetch are germinating now since I mowed down the last of the sorghum sudan. Plants love sunlight, whatta concept! 🙂 I need to walk out there and see – it could be more cool season weeds, but more bare ground is definitely covered with green. If more rye and vetch germinate next fall, that will add diversity to our winter cover crop then – bonus!

      I didn’t soil test this year, but did last year. These fields are acidic and definitely need more calcium and phosphorus too probably. We’re adding some carbonized lime to these fields every year. I’m sure the fields are lacking in nitrogen after our super wet summer – N leaches very easily here with our sandy soil. We’re putting more of our fertilizer dollars on our own fields first, since that’s where we’ll run fencing and water lines and graze animals first.


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