Whole Farm > Other > Industry Analysis

December 2022

Cover crops in Iowa: New survey results

A new Staff Report published by the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) summarizes data collected by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) through five annual waves (2015-2020) of a survey on Iowa farmers’ use of cover crops.

The survey was administered to farmers who visited local conservation field offices and who had received technical assistance and/or cost share related to cover crops. The 3,039 responses shed light on Iowa farmers’ rationale and motivations to use cover crops, the timing of planting and termination, the types and extent of varieties used, and farmers’ preferred information sources. The main findings include the following highlights:

  • The most prevalent types of operations using cover crops were farms producing row crops and cattle, and farms producing row crops but no livestock.
  • On average, 60% of the respondents were owner-operators of the acres in cover crops.
  • Most respondents seeded cover crops on erodible land, and only on a portion of their fields.
  • About a third of the respondents used cover crops as supplemental feed for their livestock.
  • Eighty-one percent of the respondents planted winter-hardy cover crops.
  • Drill planting after harvest was the most prevalent planting method (56%).
  • Seventy-two percent of the respondents terminated the cover crops with herbicides and no-till planted the next crop.
  • The stated motivations to use cover crops reported by at least two-thirds of the respondents include preventing soil erosion, building soil organic matter, improving soil health, and improving/protecting water quality.
  • The most common source of information on cover crop management among respondents was some type of government agency, although the preferred method of receiving information was through discussions with other farmers.

Since the survey methodology did not follow a scientific design, results cannot be extrapolated beyond the sample. However, stakeholders who work with farmers and other interested groups can use these data to inform their understanding of Iowa farmers’ management of cover crops.

The complete CARD Staff Report 22-SR 119, December 2022, is available on the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development website.

Alejandro Plastina, extension economist, 515-294-6160, plastina@iastate.edu
Sriramjee Singh, CARD post-doctoral researcher
J. Arbuckle, professor of rural sociology, arbuckle@iastate.edu


Alejandro Plastina

extension economist
View more from this author

Sriramjee Singh

CARD post-doctoral researcher

J. Arbuckle

professor of rural sociology