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Cover crop survey reports higher yields

David Ekstrom 07/16/2013 @ 4:03pm

Putting in a cover crop can be one of the most important things a farmer can do during a dry year. A detailed report has just been released about a survey carried out in partnership between the USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC). During the winter of 2012-2013, more than 750 farmers were surveyed, primarily from the Upper Mississippi River watershed. The questions were focused on cover crop adoption, challenges, and yield impacts.

In the fall of 2012, the fields compared side-by-side with no cover crops had lower yields. With a cover crop, corn had a 9.6% increase, and soybeans saw an 11.6% increase. Yields were still up even after the hard hit from the drought in areas of the Corn Belt with an 11.0% increase for corn and a 14.3% increase for soybeans.

Dr. Rob Myers, a University of Missouri agronomist and regional director of Extension programs for North Central Region SARE, states, “It is especially noteworthy how significant the yield benefits for cover crops were in an extremely dry year. The yield improvements provided from cover crops in 2012 were likely a combination of factors, such as better rooting of the cash crop along with the residue blanket provided by the cover crop reducing soil moisture loss.” It was reported in the survey that farmers were rapidly increasing acreage of cover crops with 303 acres of cover crops per farm in 2012, and farmers intend to plant an average of 421 acres in 2013.

Soil heath is a key aspect in the overall benefit of cover crops. Reduction in soil compaction, improved nutrient management, and reduced soil erosion were some of the key benefits cited for cover crops. “Cover crops are just part of a systems approach that builds a healthy soil, higher yields, and cleaner water,” says one of the surveyed farmers. Dr. Rob Myers commented, “Where cover crops have been used for several years, we know that organic matter typically increases, which improves rainfall infiltration and soil-holding capacity.”

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of cover crops for soil heath and higher yields, visit http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Topic-Rooms/Cover-Crop-Topic-Room. The survey results can be found online by visiting http://www.northcentralsare.org/CoverCropsSurvey.

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