ICCON Recaps The 2023 National Cover Crop Survey

On December 13, ICCON welcomed Dr. Rob Meyers, the Director for the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at the University of Missouri, for an insightful discussion on the outcomes of the 2023 National Cover Crop Survey. Conducted in March of 2023, the survey provides a comprehensive reflection of cover cropping data from the 2022 agricultural season. 

The online survey, comprising 110 questions, allows farmers to respond to 30-40 queries tailored to their unique farming contexts. The 2023 survey achieved a well-rounded distribution of demographics and geographical representation, with responses received from almost every state and age group. Acreage size was also factored in, capturing insights from farmers of all sizes. 

A notable highlight from Dr. Meyers’ presentation was a new survey question about recent tillage practice changes. Despite a significant number of respondents already practicing no-till, the majority expressed that the inclusion of cover crops has considerably eased their transition to no-till, showcasing the symbiotic relationship between cover crops and sustainable tillage practices. Cereal rye emerged as the leading cover crop, aligning with expectations. However, the survey also revealed a diverse array of cover crop species being adopted by farmers, signaling a growing interest in using cover crop mixes to enhance soil diversity. 

As Dr. Myers described in the call, a majority of farmers said cover crops have eased their transition into no-till which is reflected in the graph above. Dr. Myers mentioned this is likely due to short term changes that cover crops are helping with such as addressing soil compaction and soil moisture retention.

Approximately 75% of respondents reported improvements in weed control, accompanied by reduced costs. However, it’s worth noting that some farmers, particularly those cultivating corn, indicated no cost reductions during their corn year. This suggests a hesitancy to alter herbicide plans in corn crops. 

An insightful trend from the survey confirmed what many have suspected – the longer farmers implement sound cover crop management, the more likely they are to witness positive yield responses and, in some cases, cost reductions. Those with a decade or more of cover crop history reported increased yields of 6.30% in soybeans and 6.27% in corn, emphasizing the importance of experience and skill in managing cover crops effectively. As a cover crop management strategy, planting green emerged as a common practice among respondents, with many highlighting its benefits in moisture management. The dry spring of 2023 might impact future survey responses, but overall, planting green has proven to be an effective strategy for timely cash crop planting while leveraging the benefits of maturing cover crops. 

The survey underscored the pivotal role of cost-share and incentive programs in driving cover crop adoption. A majority received payments, primarily through NRCS or state-affiliated cost-share programs, with 15% reporting private funding. Notably, 67.5% of farmers expressed a steadfast commitment to using cover crops, even in the absence of incentive payments, while an additional 22.8% signaled a likely continuation. 

This survey offers a wealth of insights, and our ICCON call only scratched the surface. For those wanting to access the complete survey report, it is available at National Cover Crop Surveys – SARE.  


Dr. Myer’s full presentation can be viewed on ISAP’s YouTube channel. During the January call, ICCON will be providing an overview of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy 2023 Biennial Report. Register for upcoming ICCON calls here.  If you are interested in joining the  Illinois Cover Crop On-Farm Network to learn about new research and hear from cover crop specialists across the Midwest, please join our google group by sending an email to hvanbeck@farmland.org. 

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Torey Colburn

Torey Colburn is a Conservation Agronomist with American Farmland Trust. Torey is a Certified Crop Advisor who provides conservation and agronomy technical assistance to farmers and landowners. The technical assistance will result in increased farmer participation and engagement in programs and projects that improve productivity, profitability, and sustainability.