Cover Crops Boost Yields and Weed Control, National Farmer Survey Says

Following the use of cover crops, farmers reported increased yields of corn, soybeans and wheat, and improved control of herbicide-resistant weeds, according to a nationwide survey. In addition, the survey of 2,012 farmers showed acreage planted in cover crops has nearly doubled over the past five years.

Survey participants—88 percent of whom use cover crops—reported that after cover crops:

  • Corn yields increased an average of 2.3 bushels per acre, or 1.3 percent;
  • Soybean yields increased 2.1 bushels per acre, or 3.8 percent;
  • Wheat yields increased 1.9 bushels per acre, or 2.8 percent.

A full summary and the complete 2017 Cover Crop Survey Report are available online at: www.sare.org/2017CoverCropSurvey

This marks the fifth consecutive year in which the survey reported yield increases in corn and soybeans following cover crops. It is the first year the survey team was able to calculate the impact of cover crops on wheat yields. The poll was conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) with help from Purdue University and funding support from SARE and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA).

Regarding weed control, 69 percent of respondents said cover crops always or sometimes improved control of herbicide-resistant weeds. That is a significant number, as a majority of respondents—59 percent—reported having herbicide-resistant weeds in at least some of their fields.

“In addition to yield increases, farmers reported other benefits to cover crops, ranging from improved soil health to better control of herbicide-resistant weeds,” notes Rob Myers, Regional Director of Extension Programs for North Central SARE at the University of Missouri. “For instance, 85 percent of the farmers who used cover crops said they have seen improvements in soil health. That reflects long-term thinking and a growing understanding of the enduring value that cover crops deliver.”

Since SARE and CTIC began their annual cover crop survey in 2012, there has been a steady increase in cover crop acreage among participants. In this year’s survey, farmers said they committed an average of 400 acres each to cover crops in 2016, up from 217 acres per farm in 2012. They expected to increase their cover crop planting in 2017 to an average of 451 acres.

One of the most important outcomes of the SARE/CTIC Cover Crop Survey is insight into what motivates farmers to use—or start using—cover crops, notes Chad Watts, Executive Director of CTIC in West Lafayette, Indiana.

“Among cover crop users, we are seeing great enthusiasm for the soil health benefits of cover crops, with a widespread appreciation for the long-term benefits of covers,” Watts notes. “We’re also seeing openness to practices like inter-seeding and planting green, which raises cover crop use to the next level in terms of creating new options for species and mixes, and new opportunities to get even greater benefits from their covers.

“Among non-users, we’re getting a strong signal that they want more information and training,” he adds. “The feedback we’re hearing through the survey will help guide the research and extension agenda to gather and share the information farmers need in order to adopt and succeed with cover crops.”

In addition to the contributions of SARE, ASTA and Purdue, support for the survey was provided by ASTA members Beck’s Hybrids, Grassland Oregon, Justin Seed Company, La Crosse Seed, Monsanto and Seedway, with additional help from Penton Agriculture.

A full summary and the complete 2017 Cover Crop Survey Report are available online at www.sare.org/2017CoverCropSurvey.

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