Production costs decrease by up to a third

With the cover crop acting much like "a jacket," Vickers' healthier soils hold moisture, prevent runoff and stretch his irrigation dollars. In its entirety, his farming system trims a quarter to a third off Vickers' production costs — mostly for labor, equipment and fuel. He sidedresses a bit of nitrogen and applies several conventional herbicides, but cutting back to just one preplant insecticide in his peanuts slashed the insecticide share of his budget by 50 to 60 percent.

Vickers now plants Bt cotton against bollworms and hasn't used insecticides against any cotton pests for the past two years. Ladybugs, fire ants, wasps, assassin bugs and bigeyed bugs are abundant in his fields. "It took between three and four years to build up the beneficial populations," he says. "I still have the same pests, but the beneficials seem to be keeping them in check and not letting them get over the threshold numbers."

Historically, Vickers has rarely been plagued with insects in his peanuts. When corn earworms uncharacteristically erupted last year, he treated them with pyrethroids. On the other hand, infestations of white mold and tomato spotted wilt virus were common occurrences before Vickers began using cover crops. He hasn't seen either of those diseases in his peanuts since.

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