As producers work to harvest their cash crops this fall, some will also be turning their attention to another.
Cover crops, which can be a grass, legume, or brassica, are seeded for both on-farm and natural resources benefits. Those benefits include reduced soil erosion, improved soil health, improved weed control and nutrient availability for the next cash crop, water quality protection, and improved bottom line for the operation.
Seeding of cover crops is done in multiple ways, depending on the producer’s equipment availability and harvest schedule.
For the past several weeks, people may have noticed either planes or helicopters over fields seeding cover crops. Another option for establishing the conservation practice is a high-clearance tractor driving through the field in the weeks leading up to corn, soybean, or other crop harvest. Many producers also drill in their cover crop after harvesting the cash crop.
More producers are implementing cover crops every year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, 10.3 million acres of cover crops were seeded in 2012 and 20 million acres were seeded in 2020. That is a 100% increase over eight years.
Technical and financial assistance from federal and state programs are leading to an increase of producers altering their fall schedules to incorporate this valuable conservation practice.
Programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, both administered by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the crop insurance premium discount, through USDA’s Risk Management Agency, incentivize this conservation mindset in producers’ busy fall schedules.