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USA Cover Crop Survey Annual Report 2015-2016

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Summary
Table of contents
The fourth annual SARE/CTIC Cover Crop Survey collected data from 2,020 respondents from 48 states and the District of Columbia. Eighty-one percent described themselves as cover crop users. Their plantings of cover crops charted a steady rise since 2010, and projected plantings in the summer of 2016 were expected to continue the trend, despite a bearish agricultural economy.

Farmers reported modest yield gains in both corn (1.9%) and soybeans (2.8%) following the use of cover crops, and indicated that the popular practice of planting a cereal rye cover crop before soybeans had a positive effect on both yield and broadleaf weed control for a majority of respondents.

Respondents said the most important benefits of cover crops were improved soil health, reduced erosion and increased soil organic matter. While a majority saw no loss in profit or lacked the data to tell, about one-third found a profit increase from cover crops, while only 5.7% had a reduction in profit. Asked whether cover crops reduced yield variability during extreme weather events, two-thirds of the respondents agreed.

Cereal rye was the most popular single species of cover crop, but mixes of two or more species were also popular and growing. Cereal rye was reported to boost soybean yields on a majority of farms, and 82% indicated that cereal rye as a cover helped reduce weed problems. Notably, 26% specifically indicated cereal rye improved control of troublesome herbicide-resistant weeds. A majority of farmers planting blends of cover crops reported that they “graduated” from single-species plantings to blends or from simpler to more complex mixes.

Overall, respondents were quite enthusiastic about cover crops, including newer trends like grazing cover crops. Tax credits, reduced crop insurance premiums and more information about cover crops topped the list of favored enticements for increased use of cover crops. Such perspective can help policymakers, educators and conservation advocates chart a course to further adoption of cover crops and even greater success for the farmers who use them.