Iowa Cover Crop Acres Grow, but Rate Declines in 2017

AMES, Iowa - According to the Iowa Learning Farms 2017 Field Day Evaluation Report, Iowa cover crop acres grew last year by approximately 22 percent to 760,000 total acres. While the positive growth during a time of shrinking profit margins is notable, the rate of growth is 10 percent less than the growth measured in 2016, and still well below the goal of 12.5 million acres of cover crops called for in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Many of the new acres were planted by experienced cover crop farmers. The majority (69 percent) of respondents to Iowa Learning Farms’ year-end evaluation questionnaire started seeding cover crops at least three years ago. Only 11 percent of respondents reported implementing cover crops for the first time on their land last year. Those respondents with cover crops reported an average of 46 percent of their total row crop acres in cover crops — 6 percent more than in 2016.

“It is encouraging to see growth in cover crop use among experienced cover crop farmers, even with low crop prices,” said Jamie Benning, water quality program manager for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “This growth indicates that farmers are finding value in planting cover crops and want to see those benefits on additional acres.”

The overall percentage of farmers who are using cost share to seed cover crop acres has increased by 7 percent over four years of Iowa Learning Farms evaluation data. Of the respondents seeding cover crops in 2017, 65 percent of them did so with the assistance of cost share.

Iowa Learning Farms sponsored 29 conservation field days and workshops in 2017 on cover crops, strip-tillage, saturated buffers and prairie strips. These events drew an attendance of 1,280 people, primarily farmers and landowners. Twenty-seven percent of Iowa Learning Farms field day attendees were female.

In January 2018, 580 farmers and landowners who attended Iowa Learning Farms field days were mailed an evaluation questionnaire to investigate whether they made changes to their farming practices. In a one-month period, 251 evaluation questionnaires were returned for a 42 percent response rate.