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Cover crops in soybean field. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Cover Crops’ Value Affirmed in Recent Survey

Nifa Authors
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor

Cover crops can increase soil organic matter and fertility, reduce erosion, improve soil structure, promote water infiltration, and limit pest and disease outbreaks. Many farmers receive incentive payments from USDA to plant cover crops, but a new national cover crop survey report released recently challenges assumptions on the role of incentive payments in cover crop adoption. 

Incentives play a key role in getting some farmers started on cover crops—49% of the cover crop users participating in the survey reported receiving some sort of payment for cover crops in 2022, and almost 78% of cover crop non-users said incentive payments would be helpful. However, more than 90% of the farmers who were receiving cover crop incentives reported that they would definitely or probably continue planting cover crops after the payments ended. 

In all, just under 16% of cover crop users said receiving incentive payments was one of their goals for cover cropping. 

Significant Findings

These findings were among key conclusions of the 2022-23 Cover Crop Survey Report. Supported by USDA’s National Institute of Agriculture (NIFA), the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program and its partners, the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), surveyed nearly 800 farmers in 49 states. 

"Some people mistakenly assume that farmers only stick with cover crops because of payments, but this year's National Cover Crop Survey provided a very different perspective," says Dr. Rob Myers of SARE, lead researcher on the 2022-2023 National Cover Crop Survey Report. 

"What the survey showed is that cover crop incentive payments are an important factor in encouraging and helping farmers to transition into cover cropping, but once they see the soil health improvements and other cover crop benefits, most stick with cover crop planting long after the incentives end," Myers noted. "Insights like these make the National Cover Crop Survey such a valuable tool in understanding the impacts of cover crops, the motivations of users and non-users, and needs for additional information and incentives." 

Value of Cover Crop Survey 

The 2022-2023 report marks the seventh National Cover Crop Survey developed by SARE and its partners. Dr. Vance Owens, NIFA national program leader said the survey series, which started in 2012, has generated important data that has been used in academic research, educational programs and policy planning.  

"The most recent Cover Crop Survey provides valuable insights into farmers’ goals for cover cropping, the importance of incentive payments, especially when producers are transitioning to using cover crops, and what benefits cover cropping gives,” Owens said. "The survey also provides important information on why some producers choose not to use cover crops. Understanding the concerns of both groups helps universities and programs like SARE to fine tune their research efforts to meet producers’ needs as well as improve and expand their Extension and outreach efforts.”  

Available Online 

Access the 2022-2023 National Cover Crop Survey report online to learn more about how cover crops are being used across the nation. 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products
Agriculture systems and technology

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