WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — During the 2012 drought, corn and
soybean yields improved following cover crops, according to a recently released
report with detailed results from a farmer survey on cover crops.
The survey was carried out in partnership between the
Conservation Technology Information Center and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and
More than 750 farmers, primarily from the Upper Mississippi
River watershed, were surveyed during the winter of 2012-2013.
Questions on cover crop adoption, benefits, challenges and
yield impacts were included in the survey. Key findings include:
* During the fall of 2012, corn planted after cover crops had a 9.6-percent
increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops. Likewise,
soybean yields were improved 11.6 percent following cover crops;
* In the hardest-hit drought areas of the Corn Belt, yield differences were
even larger, with an 11-percent yield increase for corn and a 14.3-percent
increase for soybeans;
* Surveyed farmers are rapidly increasing acreage of cover crops used, with
an average of 303 acres of cover crops per farm planted in 2012 and farmers
intending to plant an average of 421 acres of cover crops in 2013. Total acreage
of cover crops among farmers surveyed increased 350 percent from 2008 to
* Farmers identified improved soil health as a key overall benefit from
cover crops. Reduction in soil compaction, improved nutrient management and
reduced soil erosion were other key benefits cited for cover crops. One farmer
commented, “Cover crops are just part of a systems approach that builds a
healthy soil, higher yields and cleaner water;” and
* Farmers are willing to pay an average of $25 per acre for cover crop seed
and an additional $15 per acre for establishment costs, either for their own
cost of planting or to hire a contractor for cover crop seeding.
“It is especially noteworthy how significant the yield
benefits for cover crops were in an extremely dry year,” said Rob Myers, a
University of Missouri agronomist and regional director of extension programs
for North Central Region SARE.
“The yield improvements provided from cover crops in 2012
were likely a combination of factors, such as better rooting of the cash crop
along with the residue blanket provided by the cover crop reducing soil moisture
loss. Also, where cover crops have been used for several years, we know that
organic matter typically increases, which improves rainfall infiltration and
soil water holding capacity.”
Full results of the survey are available online at
For more information about the survey, contact CTIC project
director Chad Watts at (574) 242-0147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.