Even Though They’re Among Ag’s Latest ‘Buzz Words,’ Cover Crops Offer a Soil-Building Strategy that No-Tillers Have Cashed in on for Several Decades

While less than 2% of America’s cropland is seeded to cover crops, a remarkable 77% of no-tillers enjoy the many benefits offered by protecting the soil over the winter months.

Results from last spring’s ninth annual No-Till Operational Benchmark Study of No-Till Farmer readers indicates cover crop usage among no-tillers continues to rise. Over the past 2 years, an additional 7% of NTF readers have started using cover crops.

Advocates for Years

Today’s excitement, hype and growing cover crop popularity are nothing new for no-tillers. This compares with growers still using other tillage systems who are just now jumping on the cover crop and soil health bandwagon. Years ago, no-tillers saw the erosion control, economic advantages, soil health, weed control and other benefits of seeding cover crops — long before the practice became popular.

Evidence of the cover crop benefits that no-tillers have enjoyed for years is found in data from the first No-Till Farmer Benchmark survey conducted in 2009. At that time, 49% of no-tillers were seeding cover crops, a figure that has grown to 77% over the past 8 years. Here is some other eye-popping data:

  • In 2016, no-tillers seeded cover crops on 49% of their cropland, an increase from 39% in 2015. An average of 429 acres of cover crops were seeded, a dramatic 44% increase from the 297 acres seeded 2 years earlier.
  • In 2009, 41% of no-tillers seeded cereal rye, while 19% relied on annual ryegrass and 13% used millet as a cover crop. These…
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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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