The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) funds a number of projects, educational programs and activities through grants and sponsorships. Another activity that SARE has supported and reported on for the past 3 years is the Annual Cover Crop Survey. The latest, conducted in March and April, 2015, SARE and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) invited farmers across the United States to take an online survey about their use of and thoughts on cover crops. More than 2,472 people answered at least some of the survey questions. Of that group, 1,229 respondents - representing 47 states - completed the entire survey. Of those who completed the survey, 84 percent have planted cover crops and 16 percent had not yet used them.
The survey was quite detailed and was designed to follow up on the two previous years of farmer questionnaires on cover crops. It asked questions that ranged from number of acres planted, farm size, cover crop species planted, how cover crops fit into crop rotations, methods of planting cover crops, cover crop termination, yields with and without cover crops, seed sources and more. The survey report presents data on a wide range of issues, from management practices to landlord attitudes about cover crops to the most influential sources of information on the practice. It reached and was completed by a diverse population of farmers, and the report includes data specific to horticulture crop producers (Figure 1).
The survey data shows that the use of cover crops continues to expand and many farmers had immediate benefits of yield increases from cover crops (Figure 2). Rob Myers, regional extension director for North Central SARE and a University of Missouri agronomist, says growers’ answers to questions on financial issues provide powerful insight on the role of markets and programs in influencing cover crop decisions. According to the study nearly three-quarters of the cover crop users in the survey said commodity crop prices have little or no influence on whether they plant cover crops. “Many people speculate that low corn and soybean prices would stall the growth of cover crops, but the farmers in the survey are telling us—and demonstrating—that the benefits of cover crops outweigh lower commodity price considerations,” Myers says.
The survey is a valuable tool for farmers, agricultural retailers, conservation advisers, policymakers and many others interested in conservation agriculture. “The survey results provide insight into the thinking behind cover cropping decisions and will help guide the research, education and promotion of the practice around the country,” says Chad Watts, CTIC program director.
You can download and read the 45-page report HERE.
You can learn about other excellent projects by going to the North Central SARE website (www.northcentralsare.org) and clicking on the Educational Resources tab at the top of the screen. On that screen, in the shaded block on the left title Educational Resources, click on SARE Project Products where you will find several print and video resources on the results of specific NCR-SARE-funded projects.