As you’ve probably heard by now, the Census of Agriculture data for 2017 is out and it had some results I thought were very surprising and good news for those advocating for soil health.

Here are some highlights as it relates to cover crops. Some of this analysis was produced by Rob Myers at SARE.

  • Cover crop acres in the U.S. are growing by 8% per year, and increased by nearly 50% between 2012 and 2017. In raw numbers, 15.3 million acres of covers were seeded in 2017, up from 10.2 million in 2012.
  • Cover crops were seeded on 153,402 farms in 2017, an increase of 20,278 farms or 15%, over 2012’s total of 133,124 farms.
  • In reviewing total cover crop acres for the Great Plains states, Texas ranked No. 1 with 1,014,145 acres, an 11% increase from 2012. Nebraska (747,903, up 109%), Kansas (557,439, up 72.6%), North Dakota (404,267, up 89%) and Oklahoma (343,564, up 50%) were ranked in the top 20 in total acres.
  • When reviewing the percent of corn, soybean and cotton acres that are seeded with cover crops, the picture changes a bit. Among major agricultural states, Oklahoma had 23% of its cropping acres seeded with cover crops, followed by Texas (12.4%), Colorado (9.8%), Kansas (5.4%), Nebraska (4.9%), North Dakota (3.9%) and South Dakota (2.6%). The analysis by SARE did not include wheat acreage.

To me, these numbers show there’s a healthy expansion taking place with cover crop acres among Great Plains farmers, especially in light of concerns about covers using too much soil moisture or hurting crop insurance eligibility. But more work lies ahead getting growers to understand how covers can help manage risk in farming.

You can read some tips on having that conversation with other farmers here in the blog I published in Cover Crop Strategies.

The wide-ranging Census of Agriculture, held every 5 years, produced a 820-page main report on numerous aspects of U.S. agriculture from 2017. More data on U.S. farming trends can be found by clicking here.