Insight from 2,020 farmers from across the country reflected enthusiasm for cover crops and—for the fourth year in a row—found a yield boost in corn and soybeans following cover crops.
Multi-year data from the survey shows the yield boost increases as cover crops are planted year after year, a revelation that points to an appealing long-term benefit of the conservation practice.
Previous SARE/CTIC Cover Crop Surveys have been used by researchers and farm groups, and even cited in Congressional testimony.
The survey was conducted in March 2016 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.
Acreage planted to cover crops continued its steady rise among survey participants, reaching an average of 298 acres per farm in 2015 and projected to grow to a mean of 339 acres in 2016. Those figures are more than double the acreage survey participants said they planted in 2011.
Corn yields rose an average 3.4 bushels per acre after cover crops, and soybean yields increased 1.5 bushels per acre.
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.
The modest average gains reported for 2015 are in line with agronomists’ expectations for a good growing season, says Rob Myers, Regional Director, Extension Programs for SARE at the University of Missouri.
“It’s also important to note that two-thirds of this year’s survey respondents agreed that cover crops reduced yield variability during extreme weather events,” he adds. “These farmers are taking the long view and recognizing that not every season turns out like 2015.”
Myers added that a mild surprise in this year’s survey was how many farmers reported a profit benefit from cover crops. Of the farmers surveyed, 33 percent found their profit improved as a result of using a cover crop, while only 5.7 percent said their profit decreased; remaining responses were split between those reporting no change in profit and those not yet having enough data/experience to evaluate profit impact.
More Than Money
“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.”
“This year’s cover crop survey brought more insight and new questions to the four-year survey effort,” says Andrew LaVigne, president & CEO of ASTA. “Understanding the opinions, influences and practices such as what cover crop users find important when they purchase seed will be extremely informative for crop advisors, seed companies, policymakers, agricultural retailers and other people interested in increasing the adoption and success of cover crops.”
SARE, CTIC and ASTA received support for the project from Penton Farm Progress magazines, Purdue University, Albert Lea Seed, CHS, The CISCO Companies, La Crosse Seed, Mountain View Seeds, Allied Seed, Curtis & Curtis Inc., Grassland Oregon, Justin Seed and Seedway.
The full report is available online at www.ctic.org/Cover Crops.