I live in a big city now, but I grew up in a small town. Farms and rolling fields, pastures and paddocks, corn and combines. Those were the good ol’ days, but so much has changed since I left – in both farming and my town. When I visit home now, I see more for sale signs in yards than tractors in fields.
It’s not like farming was ever “easy.” Even during the good ol’ days, most farmers in my town had day jobs because small farms aren’t lucrative enough to pay the bills. But for them, farming was in their blood. It was what they did and who they were. So they got up before dawn to do chores before going to work and they were in the fields until after dark. Weekends off? Vacations? Hardly.
The Great Recession of 2008 hit everyone hard, but it was particularly rough on Rural America. Those day jobs have dried up and moved elsewhere, leaving a lot of small farmers with the tough decision to stick it out with the farm or leave it behind.
Well, you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl and that’s why I am really excited about National Wildlife Federation’s new report, The Growing Business of Cover Crops. It talks about some new opportunities those farmers and other small town people have to start their own businesses, make a living, support their families and even support their communities by creating new jobs.
What’s a cover crop, you ask? That’s when farmers plant another crop after harvest, something they won’t necessarily ever harvest, but it’s there to “cover” the bare ground over the winter. The cover crop protects the soil, making a living, green blanket to hold the topsoil and nutrients for the next season.
Cover crops have been around for centuries, but they were pretty much forgotten until recently when a few creative farmers figured out that they help restore soil health and can even help protect them during a drought. The cover crop comeback has been fast and furious—a 38 percent increase in one year, according to USDA—creating a niche market for rural entrepreneurs. Farmers are willing to pay up to $40/acre on cover crops (cost of seed, planting, etc.) and sometimes they need to hire outside help. That means more jobs in seed production and sales, custom harvesting and even livestock grazing, with salaries reaching $62,000 per year.
So don’t give up on your small town just yet! Read our new report and you might be the next cover crop entrepreneur!