Cover crops once again boost corn, soybean yields

A survey of more than 1,200 U.S. farmers revealed that cover crops boosted corn yields in 2014 by a mean of 3.66 bushels per acre (2.1 percent) and increased soybeans by an average of 2.19 bushels per acre (4.2 percent).

This is the third year in a row that a yield increase following cover crops was recorded by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) Cover Crop Survey. It was also the fifth year of steady increase in the average number of acres planted of cover crops, with the average acres of cover crops planted per farm having more than doubled over the past five years. 

The study was conducted by CTIC with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA).

"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," Chad Watts, CTIC program director, said. 

Watts points out that it was interesting that the nutrient management benefits of cover crops -- including fixing atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, scavenging nutrients before they leached out of the root zone and cycling nutrients for use by later cash crops -- remains under-appreciated even by avowed admirers of using cover crop fans.

"It shows us that we have more work to do in communicating about these nutrient management benefits," Watts said. "It also shows us that there's great opportunity to create even more interest in cover crops as more growers start to see those benefits and think about how valuable they'd be on their farms."

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U.S. Department of Agriculture

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