Farmers add cover crops to a rotation to provide living, seasonal soil cover between the planting of two cash (commodity) or forage crops. Including cover crops in a rotation can provide benefits such as improved soil health and water quality, weed suppression and reduced soil erosion. Data from the field-level USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) provide information on which cover crops were grown in the fall before planting corn, cotton and soybeans.
Cover crop mixes account for 18-25% of acres with cover crops. However, the use of single-species cover crops is more common. For corn fields in 2021, almost 75% of acres with cover crops used a grass or small grain cover crop, such as cereal rye, winter wheat or oats. At 44% of acreage, cereal rye was almost twice as common as winter wheat (27%) as the cover crop on corn for grain fields. Rye and winter wheat were also the most common cover crops on soybean fields in 2018. Winter wheat was the most common cover crop used on cotton fields in 2019.