A recent article in political newspaper The Hill discussed why more consumers are buying organic foods — but for the wrong reasons, the paper says. While there is much to be debated about consumers’ thought process when it comes to buying food, organic growers have certainly embraced cover crops.
According to the article, in 2019, 46% of U.S. organic farms planted covers, with 36% using no-till or minimum tillage. Only 7% of all U.S. farms planted cover crops in the same year. However, cover cropping saw a 50% increase in total acreage from 2012 to 2017.
While crop rotations as a practice are fairly common on non-organic farms, organic farms do tend to use more diversity in crop choices when rotating.
Will we someday see a price premium on crops grown on farms where cover crops are used? Organic crops already see a premium, thanks to organic certification for operations that choose to participate in that program. Price premiums might be the quickest incentive to encourage more growers to implement cover cropping, since a price already be placed on soil health benefits from using covers.
During the 2021 National No-Till Conference, Williamsport, Ind., grower Rick Clark shared an excellent quote. Clark is going fully organic with his farm as of next year, but he was quick to clarify that there is a lot of ground between 100% conventional farming and fully organic where growers can find what works best for their operations.
The beauty of cover crops is that they can work very well for any kind of grower — organic or conventional, or anywhere in between. As long as covers are used, a grower can take at least some advantage of the nutrient scavenging, weed suppression, soil protection purposes and so much more.
Loren Steinlage, a West Union, Iowa, grower who also a speaker at NNTC last week, encouraged growers to think outside the box with new practices such as integrating cover crops. Or maybe it’s grazing your livestock on cover crops. Or trying a different method for seeding or terminating cover crops. Whatever your box is, break down those walls and don’t be afraid to try something new.