Despite The Known Benefits, Use Of Cover Crops Still Lags

Agronomists say more concrete information about costs and implementation must be provided before no-tillers widely adopt cover crops.

No-tillers are keenly aware of the benefits that cover crops can provide to their soil, yet a recent survey funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture indicates that cover crop usage lags.

What perplexes researchers is that there is no one clear reason why no-tillers have been slow to adopt cover crop use in corn and soybeans. “Farmers are well aware of the benefits of cover crops,” says Jeremy Singer, a research agronomist with the National Soil Tilth Laboratory of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

“Between 84 percent and 87 percent of the producers surveyed listed a reduction in the amount of soil erosion as the main benefit of cover crops, followed by an increase in soil organic matter,” says Singer, who coordinated the survey.

However, when it comes to adoption of cover crops, only a little more than 10 percent of the producers in Iowa had ever planted cover crops, and only 6 percent of the Iowa respondents had planted cover crops within the past 5 years.

Indiana Leads Way

The survey was conducted last summer and mailed to 3,500 producers in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. The response rate was 36 percent. “The highest rate of cover crop use was 28 percent in Indiana for producers who had ever used a cover crop, and 16 percent in both Illinois and Indiana for producers who had planted cover crops between 2001 and 2005,” Singer notes.

Many of the producers in the survey were no-tillers who saw the benefits…

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