How are cover crops being grown? How are plantings and crops changing over time? What costs are associated for farmers and are the costs increasing or decreasing per acre over time? These are the sorts of data points that Jim Isermann, Soil Health Partnership Field Manager for Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, is attempting to uncover with the first-ever 2019 SHP Cover Crop Planting Report.
Isermann has been experimenting with cover crops since the early 2000s when he began implementing cover crop programs on his farm to extend the haying and grazing season for his livestock. He has learned a lot since then and he enjoys helping other farmers shorten their learning curves.
In this podcast, Isermann explains that SHP has collected a lot of information over time including a lot of geospatial yield data and soil test data. But collecting information on practices that farmers are adopting to impact the collected results is also important.
“Obviously that’s a good step to take, to just collect what is going on with the cover crops, how they’re [farmers] applying it. But it’s really trying to get at the success of the cover crop or the soil health practice because right now we are kind of in an area where we talk a lot about cover crops, but we’re kind of lacking overall in the industry and how do we assess the successfulness of that cover crop. When does it work? How does it work? And then just the basic information of how much money are farmers spending on this. What’s the cost to do it? How are they getting the job done? We’re trying to capture all that in this type of a survey,” Isermann said.
The SHP Cover Crop Planting Report consists of answers from 80 farmers that participated in SHP programs in 2019. Those 80 farmers live in eleven different states and provided information about the cover crops that they seeded last year.
The survey results uncovered some interesting trends. Isermann was happy to see that although 2019 sent farmers waves of difficult weather, many farmers were committed to getting their cover crops planted, either by planting early and interseeding or by planting late, after the typical window.
Isermann also discusses the fact that labor is a constraint for farmers because cover crops are not cash crops and farmers are obviously focused on getting the cash crop harvested first. Survey results indicated that many farmers offset that concern by planting early or by simply contracting the cover crop work out.