Kudos to the tiny-but-mighty state of Vermont, which has recorded nearly 30% of its available cropland planted to covers in 2017, according to the Soil Health Institute. That’s far above the U.S. average of 5.6%.
Cover crops can have a major impact, as estimated by agronomists from University of Vermont Extension. They projected that if Vermont had cover crops growing on all 80,000 acres of annual cropland in the state, the carbon sequestration would be equal to taking more than 51,000 cars off the road.
Not only do cover crops help improve carbon sequestration, they can also enhance soil health and on-farm productivity.
New research by Hort Innovation, an Australian research foundation, studied covers integrated into vegetable production from July 2017 to January 2020. The research project found that using covers in vegetable production builds soil structure, reduces erosion, adds nitrogen, improves nutrient recycling and contributes to weed and soil-borne disease control.
Some researchers argue that these soil health improvements should be included in crop insurance calculations. Although currently, insurance premiums are calculated on actual production history, there might be a way to determine if a farm will be resilient through extreme weather events.
Using cover crops can be one of the tactics growers can utilize to make their operation more resilient.
A recent study from the Yale School of the Environment looked at the connection between soil health, yields and crop insurance. The research examined the effects of soil organic matter (SOM) on yield during drought for corn. Adding a single percent of SOM to corn results in positive effects including increased yields of 35 bushels per acre and decreased vulnerability to drought.
According to the study, farms that had an extra percent of SOM should have decreased insurance liabilities by 36% during extreme drought conditions—a major savings to the insurance company.
The agriculture industry, as a whole, should be incentivizing any practices that result in positive environmental effects, starting with cover crops.