Submitted to: Popular Publication
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/12/2007
Publication Date: 2/6/2007
Citation: Singer, J.W. 2007. Are Cover Crops Being Used in the Corn Belt?. Popular Publication. p. 1 and 6.
Technical Abstract: A wealth of scientific information exists quantifying the benefits of cover crops, yet adoption of cover crops in agronomic farming systems is low. Research has documented the effectiveness of using cover crops to decrease soil erosion and decrease nitrogen losses to sub-surface drainage water. Other cover crop benefits can include increasing soil organic matter and increased nutrient cycling, but these benefits may not be measurable in the short-term. Scientists and educators have speculated about the reasons for the low adoption, but these questions have never been posed to a large audience of producers, who are the ultimate end-users of this technology. A mail survey tool was developed and sent out to 3500 producers in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana in July of 2006 to quantify cover crop use and impediments to adoption. When asked if they had ever planted cover crops between growing seasons of grain crops, 10% (Iowa) to 28% (Indiana) of respondents answered yes. When asked why they had never planted cover crops, 21% to 30% responded that it takes too much time, 17% to 35% said that they already use no-tillage practices, 14% to 24% said it costs too much, and 19% to 23% said they do not have a runoff problem. About 1% to 8% of respondents said that they do not use cover crops because they reduce yield of the main crop. Between 22% and 34% of respondents said they do not use cover crops because they do not know enough about them. Between 6% (Iowa) and 15% (Illinois and Indiana) of respondents said they had planted cover crops in the past five years. When asked about the main benefits of cover crops, 84% to 87% of respondents listed reducing soil erosion and 60% to 71% listed increasing soil organic matter. Other perceived benefits included reducing soil compaction and weed suppression. When asked about using cover crops if cost-sharing was available, 40% to 58% said they would use them. About 46% to 62% of respondents said they had a grain drill or other equipment to plant cover crops and 24% to 30% said they would use cover crops if they could custom hire the planting. The results of this survey will be used to identify cover crop knowledge gaps and improve the dissemination of cover crop information.