Cover crops meet big data in new program from EDF and Minnesota partners

New program launches to gather and benchmark cover crop data within the largest public farm financial database in the U.S.

November 1, 2021
Chandler Clay, (202) 572-3312,

Environmental Defense Fund and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Farm Financial Management have partnered to establish a new financial data gathering process for cover crops within the FINBIN database — the largest publicly available farm financial database and benchmarking service in the country.

The program seeks to answer the economic questions farmers have about cover crops and provide benchmarking data for farmers using or considering planting cover crops.

“There is a growing focus on the benefits of cover crops across the agriculture sector, but farmers still have questions about their economic performance,” said Josh Tjosaas, Minnesota State Farm Business Management database lead and instructor. “This program is a big step towards finally being able to answer some of those key questions on a field enterprise level across a large sample of farms.”

Enterprise-level farm financial data will be gathered in the FINBIN database and analyzed to compare the relative profitability of farms using cover crops to the farms not using cover crops.

“Farmers, agricultural lenders and food companies need robust and representative information on the financial impacts cover crops have on the farm bottom line,” said Vincent Gauthier, senior analyst for climate-smart agriculture at EDF. “This information can help craft incentives for climate-smart practices that meet farmers’ financial needs.”

The cover crop data collection and benchmarking will take place over three years, providing scholarships into the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ Farm Business Management program and the Southwest Minnesota Farm Business Management Association for farmers growing cover crops. The program will also collaborate with the Wilkin Soil and Water Conservation District to offer farmers in Wilkin County the opportunity to participate.

The farmer scholarships are supported by the Minnesota Office for Soil Health, General Mills and the Walton Family Foundation.

“Many of my farmer neighbors are interested in growing cover crops but want to know how it will impact them financially,” said Kristin Weeks Duncanson, owner and partner at Highland Family Farms located in Mapleton, Minn. “Farmers and lenders trust the FINBIN data, and this benchmarking program will help answer the financial questions they have about cover crops.”

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