NWF Releases Roadmap for Increased Cover Crop Adoption

Report defines barriers and lays out plan for achieving 100 million acres of cover crops by 2025

11-01-2012 // Aislinn Maestas

From increasing farm profitability to reducing nutrient runoff to providing habitat for wildlife, cover crops are an easy fix to many of the current problems facing farmers and farmlands across America. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of cropland in the U.S. is planted to cover crops.

To help change this, National Wildlife Federation has released a new report, Roadmap for Increased Cover Crop Adoption. The report is the product of a June 2012 meeting that brought together 36 of the leading experts in cover crops in the Midwest and Great Plains. These farmers, scientists, extension specialists, and policy experts met for two days to discuss what they saw as the biggest barriers to expanded cover crop adoption. The “Roadmap” they developed for addressing these barriers is the first step toward achieving the goal of 100 million acres of cover crops by 2025.

“Right now, cover crops are used by a small minority of people ‘in the know,’ said Ryan Stockwell, NWF’s Agriculture Program Manager. “Farmers who use cover crops see increased farm profitability through increased yields, reduced fertilizer costs, and reduced weed management costs. We want to share this secret with the rest of the farming community so they too can reap the benefits of cover crops.”

The roadmap identifies five main categories of barriers and opportunities to increase cover crop adoption:

  • Addressing public policy. Whether through expanded incentives and improved ranking criteria, better research, technical assistance and training of staff, or through redesign of policies that currently punish cover cropping, there is much USDA can do to expand cover crop adoption.
  • Targeting research to farmer needs. More reliable data on how to effectively use cover crops, especially in specific regions, will provide valuable information for farmers deciding how to integrate cover crops into their cropping systems.
  • Technology and equipment availability. For many farmers, a lack of access to equipment such as no-till drills or highboy planters prevents cover crop trials, and thus, cover crop adoption.
  • Messaging on cover crops. Some strong, common messages on the impact of cover crops, from agronomic value to water quality benefit, are imperative to gaining support for policy advancements as well as increasing adoption.
  • Developing cover crop champions. Cover crop adoption increases in geographic areas surrounding cover crop champions often because the initial presence of these early adopters results in access to infrastructure/equipment/knowledge that make such tools more accessible for other farmers.

The report and associated stakeholder conference were made possible with the support of the Walton Family Foundation. 

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