A 2017 USDA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) national survey of farmers showed that cover crops boosted subsequent wheat yields by 1.9 bushels/acre (2.8%). Farmers also reported using cover crops to aid in weed management, especially where herbicide resistance was a problem.
While cover cropping has been a trendy discussion topic in agriculture in recent years, the survey showed that the practice is increasing both in overall acreage and in utilization by individual farmers. Most farmers cited benefits to soil health as their motivation for using cover crops.
Respondents reported primarily from the corn belt. Consequently, many of the practices – like green seeding a cover crop into standing corn – are not pertinent to eastern Washington. However, the survey still makes an interesting read. Highlights for me were the most popular cover crop species used, and the potential growth of Ag industries that support cover cropping.
Local readers should note that buckwheat is not recommended for use in our wheat systems. It can cause intense allergic reactions in some individuals (mostly in Pacific Rim countries) so it is a prohibited contaminant in wheat grain. All Brassica seed grown (including radish and turnip) must be certified as free of blackleg.
The 2017 WSU Wheat Academy will include a session on cover and companion cropping, in which participants will design their own seed mixes.