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Cover Crops

This article was originally published on December 4, 2008 and expired on March 4, 2009. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

Cover crop management and preferences of Corn Belt farmers were reported in the November-December 2008 issue of the Agronomy Journal. The findings were based on a mail survey, conducted by Jeremy Singer of the USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory at Ames, Iowa. The survey was sent to farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota during 2006.

Cover crops were defined as plants growing between regular grain crop seasons. Nearly 1,100 surveys were received with a 34 percent response rate from Illinois.

Some of the survey results included the following. The dominant cereal cover crops in Illinois are winter wheat and cereal rye. Legumes were used more frequently in Illinois and Indiana, and red clover was the dominant choice. This was most likely from interseeding the legume in winter wheat. Illinois farmers most frequently planted cereal rye, annual ryegrass, or winter wheat after corn; and winter wheat or cereal rye after soybean.

Differences in cover crop species selection were not detected for farmers who only planted crops versus farmers who raised livestock and crops.

About 33 percent of the farmers responded that they use tillage to kill their cover crops compared to 54 percent that use herbicides. Approximately 46 percent of the farmers reported that cover crops increased their corn or soybean yield.

Farmers indicated that about 27 percent of the time they harvest the cover crop for animal feed, while 62 percent did not harvest cover crops. Respondents reported receiving no cost sharing incentives (93 percent) for using cover crops and that cover crops fulfilled requirements for conservation plans on 40 percent of their farms.

When asked about their preference for cover crop traits, 68 percent of the farmers indicated that they preferred cover crops that did not winterkill and 64 percent preferred cover crops that fixed nitrogen.

Singer concluded that information provided in the survey supplements existing knowledge that can be used to address agronomic production systems that include cover crops.

Source: Jim Morrison, Extension Educator, Crop Systems, morrison@illinois.edu

Pull date: March 4, 2009

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