By Cannon River Watershed Partnership Conservation Program Manager Alan Kraus
A recent Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) survey of farmers who had planted cover crops found that farmers implemented these soil and nutrient conserving practices because they had an interest in improving water quality and reducing erosion. Of that group, 96% stated that improving water quality and reducing soil erosion were either “somewhat important” or “very important” reasons for them to plant cover crops. The availability of local or state funds to help offset the cost of planting and managing cover crops was also either “somewhat important” or “very important” to 85% of the respondents
These survey results are important because they show that farmers recognize their opportunity and ability to make beneficial impacts on water quality. They also show that citizens can share in that effort by supporting farmers with taxpayer-funded cost share programs to help maintain farm profitability.
“It’s important to recognize and accept our shared opportunity and responsibility to work together in enhancing water quality and our farm economy,” said Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) Executive Director Kristi Pursell. “Investing in farm conservation programs benefits all of us with cleaner water.”
Cover crops are plants such as annual rye grass, winter (cereal) rye, radish and clovers that are usually planted after fall harvest. These plants keep vegetative cover on the landscape until the following spring’s planting of cash crops. Cover crops improve water quality and reduce erosion by keeping nutrients in the soil and by keeping the soil in the field.
The availability of technical agronomic advice about the cover crop practice was another key motivator. All of the respondents placed some level of importance and 73% said technical advice was either “somewhat” or “very important.” The most important source for this advice was from seed dealers and agronomists when compared to educational or independent institutions.
As business owners, the profitability of planting cover crops was also important. Most respondents, (85%) responded that improved profitability was either “somewhat important” or “very important” and 73% responded that evidence of an economic return was either “somewhat important” or “very important.” None of the respondents indicated that an economic return was not important at all, indicating that the economics of cover crops has at least some level of importance to all farmers, even if for a small group of farmers an economic return is not the most important motivator for planting cover crops. Farmers also thought that cover crops could reduce their production costs with 73% saying that the goal to reduce the cost of weed control was either “somewhat” or “very important” and 81% said that the effect of cover crops on corn and soybean yields was either “somewhat” or “very important.”
Federal, state and local Soil and Water Conservation District programs provide farm level cost share for conservation practices that lead to cleaner water and healthier soil.
CRWP surveyed 39 farmers who planted cover crops over the last four years in the Cannon River watershed. Twenty-four farmers responded, for a 62% response rate.