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Net returns and risk for cover crop use in Alabama tomato production

Leah M. Duzy, Ted S. Kornecki, Kipling S. Balkcom, Francisco J. Arriaga
Renewable agriculture and food systems 2014 v.29 no.4 pp. 334-344
Secale cereale, Solanum lycopersicum, Trifolium incarnatum, biomass, climate, conservation tillage, costs and returns, cover crops, economic sustainability, fresh market, income, planting, plastic film mulches, prices, production technology, risk, rye, subsoilers, tomatoes, vegetable yield, weather, Alabama
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) producers are faced with uncertain yields and prices, and utilizing a production system that will reduce risk while maintaining yield may keep tomato producers economically sustainable into the future. A conservation tillage production system with high biomass cover crops may be an economically viable alternative for tomato producers in Alabama. The objective of this study was to compare the economics of alternative production systems using different cover crops, such as cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) and crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.), and different subsoiler shanks for fresh-market tomato production relative to a commonly used plastic mulch system to determine the preferred treatment. Gross revenues and net returns from tomato production using a rye cover crop were higher than tomato production using plastic mulch in 2 of the 4 years. For the clover cover crop, gross revenues and net returns were higher in 1 out of the 4 years. Under tomato prices and weather conditions observed during 2005–2008, the preferred treatment for a risk neutral producer was planting tomatoes into a rye cover crop with a wide shank. For a strongly risk averse producer, all cover crop treatments were preferred to plastic mulch. The use of a cover crop in tomato production has the potential to be an equally profitable, less risky alternative to plastic mulch in Alabama.