Cover crop acreage has doubled since 2012

Acreage planted in cover crops has nearly doubled over the past five years, according to nationwide survey results released in September.

The fifth annual cover crop survey by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) draws on the insight of 2,102 U.S. farmers—88 percent of whom reported using cover crops.

Cereal rye remained the top choice of farmers for cover cropping, followed by oats and radish. Sixty-five percent of the cover crop users reported planting mixes in 2016.

Following the use of cover crops, farmers reported increased yields of corn, soybeans and wheat. The report shows:

  • Corn yields increased an average of 2.3 bushels per acre;
  • Soybean yields increased 2.1 bushels per acre;
  • Wheat yields increased 1.9 bushels per acre.

“In addition to yield increases, farmers reported other benefits to cover crops, ranging from improved soil health to better control of herbicide-resistant weeds,” said Rob Myers, regional director of Extension Programs for North Central SARE at the University of Missouri. “That reflects long-term thinking and a growing understanding of the enduring value that cover crops deliver.”

Myers said 69 percent of the respondents said cover crops always or sometimes improved control of herbicide-resistant weeds. Soil health was noted by 86 percent of the respondents to be a key benefit of cover crops, and more than half believed that soil health benefits began in the first year of use.

Since SARE and CTIC began the annual cover crop survey in 2012, there has been a steady increase in cover crop acreage among participants. In this year’s survey, farmers said they committed an average of 400 acres each to cover crops in 2016, up from 217 acres per farm in 2012. They expected to increase their cover crop planting in 2017 to an average of 451 acres.

The timing of cover crop planting is also evolving. Approximately three out of four cover crop acres in the survey were planted after harvesting a cash crop, but the practice of inter-seeding covers into growing cash crops is an emerging trend—27 percent of the respondents said they seeded cover crops at sidedress fertilization time or in late summer.

At the other end of the cycle, “planting green” had been tried or used by 39 percent of the respondents. They said the approach—in which cash crops are seeded directly into living cover crops, and then the covers are terminated—helped suppress weeds, manage soil moisture and maximize other benefits of cover crops. Planting green was uncommon just a few years ago.

More details are online at www.sare.org/covercropsurvey.

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Pork ambassadors sought

The Missouri Pork Association is now accepting applications for the 2018 Youth Pork Ambassador Program, which allows students to actively interact with leaders in Missouri’s pork industry and receive a $1,000 scholarship, payable to any technical school, community college or four-year institution.

As a Youth Pork Ambassador, participants will promote the Missouri Pork Association and the pork industry at various events throughout the year and will learn about pork production, the industry and make life-long connections in the field.

To qualify, applicants must be a high school senior or college freshman or sophomore as of Jan. 1, 2018. Applications and three letters of recommendation are due Dec. 15, 2017. For complete details and an application, visit www.mopork.com/youth/youth-pork-ambassador/.

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Make it count

Farmers and ranchers across the nation soon will start receiving the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which is only conducted once every five years.

Producers can mail completed census forms or respond online via the web questionnaire. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has extensively revised the online questionnaire to make it more convenient for producers, according to NASS Census and Survey Division Director Barbara Rater.

“The updated online questionnaire is very user-friendly—it can now be used on any electronic device and can be saved and revisited as the producer’s schedule allows,” Rater said. “Responding online saves time and protects data quality. Better data means informed decisions, and that’s why it is so important that every producer respond and be represented.”

New time-saving features of the online questionnaire include automatically calculating totals, skipping sections that do not pertain to the operation, and providing drop-down menus of frequent responses.

The census website will continue to be updated with new information through the census response deadline of Feb. 5, 2018. One recently added feature is a new video from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue reminding all producers to respond when they receive their 2017 Census of Agriculture in the mail this fall.

Revisions and additions to the 2017 Census of Agriculture aim to capture a more detailed account of the industry. Producers will see a new question about military veteran status, expanded questions about food marketing practices, and questions about on-farm decision-making to better capture the roles and contributions of beginning farmers, women farmers and others involved in running the business.

The Census of Agriculture is a complete count of all U.S. farms, ranches and those who operate them and is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agriculture data for every state and county in the country. The data is used to make decisions that shape American agriculture—from creating and funding farm programs to boosting services for communities and the industry.

For more information, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 800-727-9540.

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