Perceptions and Use of Cover Crops Among Early adopters: Findings From a National Survey

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Journal of Soil and Water Conservation

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Soil and Water Conservation Society





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There is evidence that cover crops can bring both environmental and yield benefits to a farm operation, yet according to the USDA’s Census of Agriculture, in 2012 less than 5% of the nation’s total row crop land was planted to cover crops. In 2014, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) collected data on cover crop use from producers across the United States. Using data from early adopters of the practice, we examine the factors associated with higher percentage of land planted to cover crops and reliance on cost-share assistance. In addition, we provide rare insight into the number of producers discontinuing their use of cover crops and examine whether this group is distinguishable from continuous users. By understanding how producers use and finance cover crops, and identifying those most likely to continue their use, we provide insights into how policymakers and conservation staff can modify their strategies and increase the number of long-term cover crop users. Continuous use among early adopters is associated with a willingness to self-learn and experiment through trial and error, whereas the small number of producers in our sample discontinuing the practice typically operate large farms and perceive adoption to be limited in their area by the increased difficulties and costs cover crops bring to farm management. Promoters of cover crops should attempt to combat these perceptions by showcasing local examples where limitations have successfully been overcome. Despite evidence of concerns over the cost of cover crops, many current users are continuing to expand their cover crop land without the use of cost-share funding.

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