A new report from 2,020 farmers nationwide shows growers find a boost in corn and soybean yields when they use cover crops. This is the fourth survey conducted by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) with help from the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and Purdue University. Multi-year data highlights the benefits of year after year use of cover crops.
The survey also reveals growth in the use of cover crops. In 2015 the average acres per farm was 298, while 2016 is expected to grow to 339. That number is more than double the acreage planted in 2011.
Corn yields rose an average 3.4 bushels per acre, or 1.9 percent, after cover crops, and soybean yields increased 1.5 bushels per acre, or 2.8 percent. Analysis of the survey data revealed that yield increases rose to 8.3 bushels per acre of corn after cover crops had been used for more than four years on a field. In soybeans, the average yield gain increased from 0.1 bushel per acre after a single year in cover crops to 2.4 bushels after four years of cover crops.
“Cover crops really shine in challenging years, when the improvements they influence on soil moisture holding capacity and water infiltration can minimize cash crop yield losses to stress,” notes Rob Myers, Regional Director of the Extension Programs for SARE at the University of Missouri. “In a favorable growing season, we expect to see less of a yield impact. However, the link between the length of time in cover crops and yield improvements points to the long-term benefits of building soil health.
The survey also revealed a high number of farmers who saw profit increase as a result of cover crops. Thirty-three percent saw profit benefits, while only 5.7 percent said it decreased. Other growers reported no change in profit, or not enough data to evaluate profit impact.
“The vast majority of cover crop users report the most important benefits of cover crops to be improved overall soil health, reduced erosion and increased soil organic matter,” says Chad Watts, executive director of CTIC. “Though the yield benefits, profitability and resilience provided by cover crops are widely recognized by the farmers in the survey, the benefits they highlight most are long-term soil health impacts.”
The report also covered species of cover crops and asked growers what would motivate others to adopt the practice. You can read more in the full online report.