Survey: Cover Crops Expand in Acres, Boost Yields

John DavisAgribusiness, Corn, Cover Crops, Soybeans, USDA

sare-nationalA new survey shows that more farmers are planting more cover crops, and that is resulting in bigger yields in corn and soybean fields. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) ­program, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), says the survey of more than 1,200 farmers revealed that cover crops boosted 2014 corn yields by an average of 3.7 bushels per acre (2.1 percent) and soybeans by 2.2 bushels per acre (4.2 percent). Cover crop acreage per farm more than doubled over the past five years.

The survey was conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) with funding from USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). While the survey showed yield increases among growers who use cover crops, they are interested in more than the yield benefit. The three most-cited benefits of using cover crops were:

· increased soil health (22 percent)

· increased organic matter (20 percent)

· reduced soil erosion (15 percent)

“This shows a strong appreciation for the wide range of long-term benefits cover crops deliver,” says Chad Watts, CTIC program director.

The survey also showed that for growers who didn’t use cover crops, they cited establishment, cover crop seed costs, and time and labor required for planting and managing cover crops, as their top challenges to growing cover crops.