A Closer Look at RIPE’s Qualifying Practices: Cover Crops (NRCS Code 340)

cover crops provide robust environmental value

RIPE’s researchers continually work to expand the set of practices that would qualify for a $100 per unit payment under the proposed RIPE100 program by collecting research that demonstrates the combined environmental value of climate-smart practices.

Here we highlight cover crops (NRCS code 340). Cover crops reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide additional environmental benefits valued at over $120 per acre per year.

We found that farmers who adopt cover crops provide over $70 in water quality benefits, over $20 in improved soil quality, $13 in water savings, and $7 in air quality benefits. They also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 0.25 metric tons per acre, which is about $5.

Review our methodology and sources in the charts below and access our current list of proposed qualifying practices here

Cover Crops

Ecosystem ServiceValue ($/acre/year)Source
Carbon Sequestration$5The IHS Markit report commissioned by the Ecosystem Service Marketplace Consortium finds that cover crops reduce GHG emissions by 0.25 tons/acre. Priced at a carbon payment of $20/ton of GHG, this GHG reduction is valued at $5/acre.

Source: “Economic Assessment for Ecosystem Service Market Credits from Agricultural Working Lands.” IHS Markit. Ecosystem Service Marketplace Consortium. 2018.

Water Quality$76According to “Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education,” cover crops reduce soil erosion by 20.8 tons/acre on conventional-till fields, 6.5 tons/acre on reduced-till fields and 1.2 tons/acre on no-till fields, or an average of 9.5 tons/acre. In “Final Benefit-Cost Analysis for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),” NRCS (2010) values the water quality benefits of reduced soil erosion at $8/ton in 2020 dollars. 9.5 tons of soil/acre multiplied by $8/ton of soil yields a water quality value of $76/acre.
Air Quality$7USDA/NRCS’s report, “Final Benefit-Cost Analysis for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),” (NRCS, 2010) identified benefits and their transfer values from EQIP practices and identified which stewardship practices led to different categories of benefits. Cover crops were identified as a practice that led to improvements in “sheet and rill water erosion, and air quality.” The air quality value identified in this report was $5.71/acre/year, which was converted to 2020 dollars.

Healthy Soil$21This number is an average taken from two papers:
Pimentel, et al. “Environmental and Economic Costs of Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits,” Science, Vol 267, Issue 5201, 24 Feb. 1995, pages 1117-1123., doi:10.1126/science.267.5201.1117.; and USDA/NRCS, “Final Benefit-Cost Analysis for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),” May 10, 2010.
The USDA article valued the reduction of loss of nutrients from planting cover crops at $11.92/acre/year, which was converted into 2020 dollars. Pimentel, et al. calculated a cost of $3/ton of soil for nutrients, which was converted into $28.50/acre/year.
Water Savings$13In the economic tool “Cover Crop Economics” version 3.1, USDA lists a 5.41 acre-inch water efficiency gain/year with the use of cover crops, which is valued at $10.30/acre in 2007 dollars. Updating this value to 2020 dollars yields a water conservation value of $13/acre.