Uncovering Cover Crop Benefits


There is already a pile of evidence on the benefits of cover crops and a new study adds to that pile. Gary Crawford uncovers the facts in this report.


“For year, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has promoted the need for more farmers to plant cover crops…to not only improve soil health, but to improve water quality, and improve the bottom line.”

Big kudos to USDA for all they’re doing to promote this, says Laura Bryant wioth the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-author of a new report putting the numbers on benefits of cover crops.  Forhat report is called ‘Climate Ready Soils’, researchers used tools developed by USDA and land-grant universities to measure those cover crop benefits.  The study says that if soybean and corn producers put cover crops on just half their acres in the 10 top agriculture states it would capture enough carbon to equal to taking four million cars off the road, and increase the organic matter in the soil by 1%…and that could help the soil hold an additional trillion gallons water, and that’s enough to meet the annual needs of 33 million peoples. So, that would help the soil hold up during drought conditions.

Cover crops could also help the soil hold together better during flood events and in any weather generally reduce run off of fertilizers and chemicals engineered by sources of water.

Farmers may be good stewards of the land and all that, but, they are in business to make money, and planting and taking care of a cover crop does cost money.  So, we go to surveys done through the Agriculture Department’s Sustainable Ag Research and Education program, SARE for short, and Bryant told us those surveys have all shown the same thing…farmers who planted cover crops compared to those who didn’t had higher yields. So, when it comes to an individual farmer’s profitability, yes, you pay for the seed, but SARE’s shown through their surveys three years in a row that cover crops can pay for themselves.

But, if cover crops are so great, why do farmers have only 2% of corn and bean acres with cover crops?  Opinions vary on that, but some barriers mentioned; not having enough information on cover crops and the extra cost and extra runs across the fields to plant, feed, and then terminate the cover crops in time to get the main commodity crops in.

However, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and Laura Bryant both say that with more and more information out there and more studies about bottom line benefits, you’ll see an expansion of cover crops, and I think it’s just going to grow by leaps and bounds the next few years.”


A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.