The Soil Health Partnership conducted a detailed survey on cover crops with more than 80 farmers across 11 states in the SHP network about cover crop usage on their trial sites in the fall of 2019. The Cover Crop Planting Report is now available. The data will be used in future analyses for looking at how cover crops impact soil health, agronomic outcomes, and farmer profitability.
“We know the farmers in our network are innovators and that there is a huge range of cover crop management practices across our network–depending on the farmer’s management goals, where they are located, their soils, cropping system, etc.,” said Maria Bowman, Lead Scientist for the Soil Health Partnership. “My hope is to give SHP farmers along with farmers outside our network some context for the types of practices that are common and how much they cost, while building our dataset to answer other important questions about cover crops and what types of management practices lead to successful outcomes.”
Bowman says the most significant finding was that although more than half of farmers planted between the middle of September and the beginning of November, almost 40% planted before or after these dates, and 25% of farmers responding to the survey interseeded or overseeded the cover crop into a standing cash crop. This means that farmers are using a wide range of strategies to get cover crops out on their fields, especially in higher latitudes where there are timing and labor constraints to getting a cover crop in after harvest.
Cover crop mix
Fifty-three percent of the farmers surveyed reported planting a cover crop mix of two or more species.
The breakdown included 47% planting a single-species, 31% planting a mix of two to three species, and 16% planting a mix of more than three species.
For the 53% planting a mix, the most common species that farmers disclosed they used included:
The planting time depended on the region, cash crop rotation, and species.
In 2019, more than half of farmers planted their cover crops between September 15th and November 3rd.
Seventy-four percent of farmers said in 2019 they planted cover crops after harvest, while 25% interseeded or overseeded them.
The median cost of cover crop seed and applying that cover crop seed across the SHP network was $15/acre and $12/acre in 2019, respectively. However, this varied according to the mix and seeding method.
Of those planting a cover crop, 31% report contracting someone outside of their operation to plant it.
Popularity of cereal rye
Almost half of all farmers planted a single species cover crop. Of these, 80% of farmers planted cereal rye.
“Cereal rye is popular because it produces a large amount of biomass, which can keep soil in place, scavenge residual nitrogen, or provide weed-suppressing residue depending on the cover crop goals,” said Jim Isermann, SHP Field Manager in Northern Illinois and Iowa. “It also is winter hardy, allowing for a wide planting window, relatively easy to chemically terminate, and seed is rather cheap.”
Additional data is being collected this year to see how the cover crops developed and the impact on agronomic outcomes for the 2020 cash crop.