Business Case: Gaesser Farms

INTRODUCTION

Chris Gaesser, alongside his family, owns and operates Gaesser Farms in Iowa. The data shared below were collected as part of a 2021 report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line.

Farmer Profile

  • Owners: Chris Gaesser
  • Farm size: 4,855 acres
  • Crops grown: corn, soybeans
  • Conservation practices: no-till, cover crops
  • Conservation goals: implement cover crops on a large scale in a cost-effective manner without significant external funding programs, prevent erosion

One of Chris’s primary goals in working with cover crops was to implement them in a cost-effective way across large areas of his farm – and he wanted to know that the cover crop system was financially sustainable without large financial incentives.

About the Conservation System

  • Committed to identifying cost efficiencies in their system, which has been key to getting cover crops on more acres
  • Tailors cover crop usage across farms they operate based on time constraints and cost-effectiveness, prioritizing owned fields and fields under long-term contracts
  • Originally planted annual ryegrass, but eventually transitioned to cereal rye
  • Moved from aerial application of cover crop seed to broadcasting and drilling
  • Trialing seeding cover crops into standing soybeans toward the end of the season
Chris Gaesser evaluates cover crop growth in his conservation system. Photo Credit: Iowa Corn

profitability impacts

One of Chris’s primary goals in working with cover crops was to implement them in a cost-effective way across large areas of his farm – and he wanted to know that the cover crop system was financially sustainable without large financial incentives. “We wanted to know that the management system would work, even without program funding,” Chris told us. In order to make cover crops financially sustainable, he has:

Selected a species that gives the biggest bang for the buck.

Although they began working with annual ryegrass, they found it to be difficult to terminate and not very cold tolerant. They also tried oats, but finally settled on cereal rye due to its ability to overwinter, strong growth in the spring, ease of termination and cost effectiveness.

Reduced cost of application by moving away from aerial seeding and using existing equipment.

Over time, Chris moved from aerial application of cover crop seed, which he found to be costly and inconsistent, to broadcasting and drilling the seed himself. He is trialing seeding cover crops into standing soybeans toward the end of the season, using the same tracks as the last spray pass to protect soybean yield. These efficiencies have been key to getting cover crops out on more acres.

Reduced costs by growing their own cover crop seed.

Chris’s seed costs are lower ($7/acre) than most of the farmers we worked with for this study because he grows his own cereal rye cover crop seed on approximately 100-150 acres (he also generates additional income by selling the seed they don’t use). Keeping seed costs down also drives savings when considering the large number of acres Gaesser Farms cover crops. In order to offset the opportunity costs of growing their own seed, Chris notes that they grow cover crop seed on acres they want to make improvements on or marginal ground they are trying to bring into the cash crop rotation.

Gaesser Farms 2019 crop budgets

“We wanted to know that the management system would work, even without program funding.” – Chris Gaesser

DECISION MAKING BASED ON LONG-TERM VALUE

 

While Chris prioritizes owned land and ground under long-term contracts because it makes the most sense cost-wise, he is committed to communicating the benefits of cover cropping to the landowners he rents from. He highlights cover cropping as a way to preserve their assets through better soil health – making the land more manageable and forgiving, both in drought and wet conditions.

Want to learn more about conservation practices and farm finances?

Dig into our report Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line!