In all, 1,924 respondents—both users and non-users of cover crops—completed the survey in the winter of 2013-2014. Of the total, 639 provided data comparing corn yields on similar fields with and without cover crops. They noted an average yield increase of five bushels per acre, or 3.1 percent, on fields that had been planted to cover crops before corn. Comparing yields in soybeans, 583 farmers reported an average boost of two bushels per acre, or 4.3 percent, following cover crops.
Those increases, while significant, are lower than the boost discovered in a similar survey last year by SARE and CTIC, which saw improvements of 11.1 bushels (9 percent) in corn following cover crops and 4.9 bushels (10 percent) of soybeans after cover crops. Rob Myers, regional director of Extension programs for NCR-SARE and an agronomist at the University of Missouri, points out that much of the difference in yield impact between the two years of surveys may be attributed to the drought in 2012, which highlights the moisture-management benefits of cover crops.
The new report also reveals other benefits farmers gain from planting cover crops, including increases in soil organic matter, reduced soil erosion and compaction, improved weed control, the availability of “free” nitrogen through soil fixation by legumes and others.
The Gratiot Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service provide technical assistance to those who are interested in trying or enhancing cover crops in their cropping operation. Financial assistance may also be available through Farm Bill and Conservation District programs. Contact the District office for more information. Full results of the CTIC surveys are available online at www.northcentralsare.org/CoverCropsSurvey.