Once again, growers who seed cover crops have higher yields — and profits — than those who don’t, say the results of Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) and Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC)’s fourth annual Cover Crop Survey.
Of the 2,020 survey takers, 430 reported their 2015 corn yields on similarly managed fields with and without cover crops. Of those yields, corn that followed covers yielded an average 3.4 bushels per acre, or 1.9%, higher than the corn that didn’t follow a cover crop.
Similar results were seen with soybeans, where 395 survey takers reported soybean yields on similarly managed fields with and without cover crops. Soybeans that followed covers yielded an average 1.5 bushels, or 2.8%, greater than soybeans that didn’t follow a cover crop.
Yield increases are a nice benefit, but are they enough to offset the costs of cover crops and provide an overall increase in profit? According to 33.7% of 1,022 survey respondents, the answer is yes.
The majority of respondents said they didn’t have enough data or experience to tell if cover crops increased profits (34.5%), while 26.1% said covers don’t affect profitability. Only 5.7% reported a decrease in profits from cover crops.
And it appears the longer you stick with cover crops, the greater your yield increase, which can lead to greater profits.
According to the report, immediate benefits of cover cropping for corn production are observed in the first year, at an additional 2 bushels per acre. But by the fourth year of cover cropping, corn yields increase by 6.4 bushels per acre, and after 4 years it goes up to an 8.3-bushel-per-acre advantage.
Steady soybean yield increases are also seen after several years of consistent cover cropping. While soybeans will only see a 0.1-bushel-per-acre increase after the first year of cover crops, the report says after 4 years soybeans will yield an additional 2.4 bushels per acre.
If you still doubt the positive impact of cover crops, consider that:
- Cover crop expert Dave Robinson found an average $150-per-acre advantage by using cover crops.
- Ohio no-tiller David Brandt can grow 200-bushel corn on just 50 pounds of nitrogen, thanks to his legume cover crops.
- Grazing cover crops has allowed Gabe Brown to reduce inputs so much it only costs him $1.44 to grow a bushel of corn.
Have you seen cover crops pay off on your farm? Share how they’ve helped improve your yields and or profits by leaving a comment below.