Cover Crops

Cover crops should be considered a long-term investment in improved soil health and farm management. They can begin to pay for themselves in the first year of use, or it may take a few years for them to lead to a net positive return.

cover crop is a plant used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity, and bring a host of other benefits to your farm.

Cover crops have also been shown to increase crop yields, break through a plow pan, add organic matter to the soil, improve crop diversity on farms, and attract pollinators. There is increasing evidence that growing cover crops increase resilience in the face of erratic and increasingly intensive rainfall and under drought conditions. Cover crops help when it doesn’t rain, they help when it rains, and they help when it pours!

Cover Crops Yield Increase Potential

Many research studies around the world demonstrate that cover crops can increase yield. The yield benefit is often apparent after just one year of using cover crops, and farmers will start to see other benefits, such as improved soil health, after several years of using them in crop rotation. According to an analysis of yield data collected in a national cover crop survey, farmers can expect a 3% increase in their corn yield and a 4.9% increase in soybeans after five consecutive years of cover crop use. In the drought year of 2012, farmers reported even greater yield increases when they used cover crops: 9.6% in corn and 11.6% in soybeans. 

Profitable Long-Term Investment

Determining when cover crops pay for themselves is not as simple as comparing the added first-year costs with the return on the following crop. Cover crops should be considered a long-term investment that gradually improves farm management in multiple areas. Over time, this investment leads to lower costs and, sometimes, increased revenue. An analysis in the SARE bulletin Cover Crop Economics reveals that in some situations, cover crops can pay off in year one, such as when they are used for grazing or to manage herbicide-resistant weeds. In other cases, such as when using them to alleviate compaction or to improve nutrient management, a payoff is more likely in the second or third year.

Cover Crop Adoptions

  • Cover crops were planted on 15.4 million acres in 2017, a 50% increase over five years.
  • Eight states have more than doubled their cover crop acres from 2012 to 2017.
  • The number of farms planting cover crops increased 15.2% from 2012 to 2017.

Cover Crops and Soil Health

Cover crops are essential in improving soil health and are associated with numerous on-farm benefits, such as controlling erosion, improving water infiltration, and managing nutrients. Check out our interactive infographic, What is Soil Health, to learn more about the relationships between on-farm practices, soil health benefits, and the complex web of life within the soil.

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Want to discuss cover crops further contact Seed Department manager, Bil Schrader

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Categories of Cover Crops

Grasses
Legumes
Brassicas
Broadleaves
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Asmus Farm Supply, Inc.

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