According to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) 2020 National Cover Crop Survey, American farmers have increased their cover crop acreage by approximately 50%, an increase from an estimated 10 million acres on 133,500 farms to more than 15 million acres on 153,400 farms between the USDA’s 2012 and 2017 ag census.
Based on survey results from 1,172 farmers located throughout the nation who completed the survey, 93% of respondents reported they have used cover crops and have cover crop experience, while 7% reported they had never used cover crops in their farm system. Of the growers who incorporated cover crops into their management plans, the 2020 National Cover Crop Survey revealed farmers believe cover crops were beneficial to their operation in a number of ways.
“While farmers appreciate the yield benefits of cover crops, additional questions in the survey clearly indicate that they are also motivated by cover crops’ abilities to deliver other benefits, like weed control, soil health, erosion control, livestock grazing and so many others,” According to the SARE cover crop survey.
These benefits of cover crop usage are not only felt by growers across the nation reaping the rewards of introducing cover crops, but also growers throughout the state.
“Livestock is a big industry in Nebraska and that is a big way that people are seeing the economic benefit of it,” Nebraska State SARE Coordinator Gary Lesoing said, “They are seeing some payback by using cover crops for forage.”
State and Nationwide, Lesoing said, among the benefits of cover crop usage, one of the largest reasons of integrating cover crops is the increase in soil health.
“The long term impact is the soil health and they are seeing that, which usually takes maybe five years to really see the benefit,” Lesoing said, “The benefits you are seeing with cover crops is building up the soil structure for organic matter which is huge and it is going to help in reducing soil erosion.”
Of the 2020 survey respondents 94% of farmers reported their primary reason for using cover crops was to improve the soil structure or soil health, 81% reported primary reasoning to be improving weed management and 71% reported their primary reasoning to reduce soil erosion.
Cover crop usage relies largely on proper management in horticulture systems, which includes terminating the cover crop through a variety of methods to allow for the planting and production of cash crops.
“When these cover crops die it opens up channels in the soil so over time it will increase water infiltration rates and also water holding capacity, so it holds more water and when you do get rains it utilizes them better,” Lesoing said.
In addition to soil health benefits, Lesoing said, growers who use cover crops reported to be reducing the money spent on herbicides and fertilizer, reducing total input costs.
“We have found out it suppresses weeds and a lot of your really tough invasive weeds, it’s very competitive against them and provides an opportunity to get a better control of the weeds,” Lesoing said, “A lot of people found out they were reducing a lot of money they spent on herbicides and the amount of money spent on fertilizer.”
According to the 2020 SARE Cover Crop Survey, a producer noted it is difficult to quantify the profitability impact from cover crop usage, “But in an organic setting, fixed N is a huge cost savings and soil improvement, soil carbon, ect. are all very valuable and drive our entire farming system.”