The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program released the results of its annual survey on cover crop usage, seeding and termination, done in conjunction with the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). Nearly 1,200 growers, representing all 50 states, participated in the survey earlier this spring, which has been conducted annually since 2012.
We’ve broken down how some of the key results from the 2020 Cover Crop Benchmark Study, conducted by Cover Crop Strategies, and compared them with the results of the SARE/CTIC/ASTA study. Here are 3 comparative takeaways from the results.
1. One area where the survey results differed was in cover crop termination methods. The Cover Crop Benchmark Study found that 69% of growers use herbicides for terminating their covers, while the SARE/CTIC/ASTA survey showed that tillage was the most popular termination method, coming in at 27%.
“There are certain times where I could use some other chemistry to control broadleaves or grasses, but I probably would have to resort to some tillage at some point in my rotation,” says Steve Groff, a grower and cover crop expert from Holtwood, Pa. “It pained me to say that because I am a pure no-tiller on my own farm.”
2. In the 2020 Cover Crop Benchmark Study, 42% of growers stated that they’ve been growing covers for 1-5 years. A quarter of SARE/CTIC/ASTA survey respondents had used cover crops for a decade or more. However, their report did note that 11.5% of survey participants had moved from zero cover crop acres to seeding some covers between 2015-2019.
So, the results noted a significant number of recent cover crop adopters. Rob Myers, Regional Director of Extension Programs for the North Central SARE program based at the University of Missouri, notes, “There is a wide range of experience level with cover crops among U.S. farmers today, with many having only recently started with cover crops, and others having used them for a decade or longer.
“Generally, we see a pattern where farmers who have had a couple of years of good cover crop growth stick with them for the long term and become advocates to their friends and neighbors. That, plus public and private cover crop incentives and plentiful education programs with cover crops, are getting more and more farmers to adopt the practice every year. I expect we’ll be close to 20 million acres of cover crops planted this year on roughly 170,000 U.S. farms.”
3. Seeding cover crops and cash crops at the same time is a practice that is common in other countries, particularly Brazil, but not a method that American growers have embraced. More than 75% of survey respondents in the SARE/CTIC/ASTA survey stated that they have not tried this approach, while only 12% responded that they’re experimenting with the practice.
The Cover Crop Benchmark Study showed that interseeding is growing in popularity, with 13.5% of growers using interseeding as a method to plant covers.
“I decided to try interseeding cover crops to see if I could maintain yields,” says David Kruger, Twin Brooks, S.D. “If I was successful at maintaining yields, I would be able to change my rotation from corn/soybeans/wheat to 60-inch corn/60-inch corn/soybeans/wheat, with cover crops 3 out of the 4 years to increase my organic matter. With some of the things we’ve seen, I haven’t given up on the concept of cover crops yet.”
Be sure to check out all of the 2020 Cover Crop Benchmark Study coverage.