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Cover Crop Users Expand Acres

Even with tight farming margins, growers who plant cover crops expanded their acreage protected by the practice in 2014, according to a national survey 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).

For the third year in a row, the survey of farmers has shown that cover crops improve corn and soybean yields while providing a host of other benefits. 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 %) and soybeans by 2.2 bushels per acre (4.2%). Cover crop acreage per farm more than doubled over the past five years.

Asked to report on the acres of cover crops they had planted in previous years and the number of acres they expected to plant in 2015, cover crop users in this survey projected a mean cover crop average of 300 acres. Those farmers also reported planting a mean of 259 acres in cover crops in 2014 and a mean of 225 acres in 2013. 

Of 1,388 cover crop users who provided data on the number of acres they farmed during the 2014 cropping season, a narrow majority —51% — reported farming 500 acres or more.

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%)

— increased organic matter (20%)

— reduced soil erosion (15%)

 “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 provided insight into why growers use or do not use cover crops. Growers cited the top challenges to growing cover crops as:

— establishment (22%)

— cover crop seed cost (20%)

— time and labor required for planting and managing cover crops (19%)

“Nearly three quarters of the cover crop users in the survey said commodity prices have little or no influence on whether they plant cover crops,” says Rob Myers, regional director of Extension programs for North Central Region SARE. “Many people speculate that low corn and soybean prices would stall the growth of cover crops, but the farmers in the survey are telling us — and demonstrating — that the benefits of cover crops outweigh lower commodity price considerations.”

On the other hand, 92% of the farmers who do not currently plant cover crops say economic incentives would somewhat or always influence cover crop adoption. 

Download the report here.

This SARE webpage has previous reports and information on cover crops.

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