Survey Reveals Yield Benefits of Cover Crops

March 28, 2016 10:08 AM

As more and more farmers turn to cover crops, they want to know if there are benefits beyond improved soil health and conservation. Are improved yields also in store?

Recent surveys from the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) certainly suggest so. More than 1,200 farmers participated in the 2015 survey, and results showed a mean increase of 3.66 bu. per acre in corn (2.1%) and 2.19 bu. per acre in soybeans (4.2%).

Chad Watts, CTIC program director, says he is encouraged to see farmers looking into the potential short-term and longer-term benefits of cover crops.

“It’s great to see the immediate benefits of yield increases from cover crops, and very exciting to see that the use of cover crops continues to expand,” he says. “What’s particularly interesting is that while seeing an immediate benefit like a yield bump from cover crops is great, the large majority of farmers who plant cover crops told us they actually rate improvements in soil health, increases in soil organic matter, reduced soil erosion and improved weed control far higher than yield increases when they list the benefits they enjoy from the practice. That shows a strong appreciation for the wide range of long-term benefits cover crops deliver.”

Once again for 2016, CTIC is calling for farmers to participate in its annual survey. Watts says it continues to inform others on farmer intentions, expectations and concerns surrounding cover crops.

“Results from the survey help guide policy, research and education on cover crops. In recent years, data from cover crop surveys has been used in testimony on Capitol Hill, featured in the New York Times, and cited in academic journals,” he says. “People are very eager to hear how farmers view cover crops.”

Take the survey at

Farmers who want to take a smarter approach to cover crop considerations can access a new tool from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that measures

seed/establishment costs, erosion reductions, grazing opportunities, soil fertility levels, nutrient credits and more. Users enter “what-if” scenarios into the tool to compare various short- and long-term benefits of adding cover crops.

“Our hope is that answers to some of the big economic questions will help more farmers give this conservation option a try,” according to NRCS state conservationist Ivan Dozier. “Cover crops are a good trend, and one that can actually pay off.”

To get started, visit

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Spell Check

Central, NE
3/28/2016 04:20 PM

  I've been able to grow enough N with cover crops to meet the needs of 250bu corn. I only had one field last year that required nitrate.

central, MN
3/28/2016 11:10 AM

  When is agriculture going to come to the realization that cover crops are going to go the way of Ridge till and Jerusalem artichokes?

Craigville, IN
3/29/2016 07:03 AM

  I'm with Brian and Jeff. Cover crops are a good idea that out forefathers understood, but that the land grant universities and chemical companies convinced famers that they were unnecessary. They thought we should not "waste" that money and use it to purchase fertilizer and chemicals. What a great idea, not!


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