Study: cover crop adoption is leveling off in some Midwestern states
Cover crops are touted as a conservation and climate solution but adoption of them is leveling off, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group.
The organization has analyzed cover crops in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa every other year since since 2015. Minnesota was a new addition to the study in 2019.
Soren Rundquist is the director of spatial analysis and lead author of the report.
“We now have the ability to look at that adoption rate for cover crop plantings and what we’re finding is that since 2015, while cover crop acres are increasing in all four states, we’re seeing some leveling off in terms of that percentage of corn and soybeans that are getting cover crops,” he says. “…We’re maintaining these cover crop areas, but in all four states we are seeing a slower rate of adoption in the latest assessment of cover crops.”
The report found that use of cover crops grew in the three states from 2015 to 2017, but implementation slowed between 2017 and 2019.
Rundquist says for every 20 acres planted to corn and soybeans, only one acre had cover crops in the four states in 2019.
“In 2019 we found more than 3.2 million acres of cover crops planted on 68 million acres of corn and soybeans, which equates to a little more than 4.8 percent,” he says.
He tells Brownfield cover crops have tremendous conservation benefits, but limited potential for sequestering carbon.
“We feel like it should be touted as a viable climate solution in terms of protecting water resources and cover crops are doing an excellent job at absorbing nutrients from farm fields and keeping soil on the ground and reducing runoff,” he says. “When you pivot to use cover crops to sequester carbon, it doesn’t seem as practical in the sense of we have a small percentage of corn and soybeans that have cover crops and to get to 100 percent adoption is a giant hurdle. The benefits of protecting water resources in the face of climate change is more important than using cover crops as a way to sequester carbon. It seems like it’s not as practical as the benefits it brings for nutrient runoff.”
Rundquist says additional federal investments in cover crops are needed.
“We advocate for more federal dollars to be used to get cover crops on the landscape to increase adoption of this voluntary practice,” he says.
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