Report: Cover Crops Boost Yield, Benefit Soil

John DavisAgribusiness, agronomy, Cover Crops

covercropsurveyA new report shows that cover crops boost yields while benefiting the soil and other pluses. The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) funded research, carried out by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), surveyed nearly 2,000 users and non-users of cover crops and showed the challenges and benefits farmers expect from cover crops.

[Respondents] noted an average yield increase of five bushels per acre, or 3.1 percent, on fields that had been planted to cover crops before corn. Comparing yields in soybeans, 583 farmers reported an average boost of two bushels per acre, or 4.3 percent, following cover crops.

The new report also reveals other benefits farmers gain from planting cover crops, including increases in soil organic matter, reduced soil erosion and compaction, improved weed control, the availability of “free” nitrogen through soil fixation by legumes, and others.

“These many benefits of cover crops are reflected in the rapidly rising rate of adoption from 2010 to 2013, when cover crop acreage among survey respondents increased by 30 percent per year,” says [Rob Myers, Regional Director of Extension Programs for NCR-SARE and an agronomist at the University of Missouri].

The increases are actually lower than what was found in a similar survey last year by SARE and CTIC, which saw improvements of 11.1 bushels (9 percent) in corn following cover crops and 4.9 bushels (10 percent) of soybeans after cover crops. But officials attribute the difference to the drought in 2012, which highlights the moisture-management benefits of cover crops.

You can read the full survey here.