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Cover Crops: A Soil Health and Climate Solution

10 December 2019
Vanessa Kulick Price

December 10, 2019

Cover crops improve soil health, capture carbon, prevent erosion, and help farmers deal with extreme weather, such as the incredibly wet spring of 2019 across much of the Corn Belt. In early December, AGree hosted a briefing supported by the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus to discuss how farm profitability, soil fertility, and climate resiliency can be improved over time with the use of cover crops.

From left to right: Briefing moderator Heather Lair, and panelists Jennifer Nelson, Rodney Rulon, Dr. Rob Myers, and Dr. William Salas

We were pleased to feature the work of Rodney Rulon, an Indiana corn and soybean farmer based in central Indiana. Rodney is a vocal advocate of cover crops and spoke about how planting cover crops has increased his farm’s profits by $58 per acre through benefits to soil health and crop yields. The Rulon family has used no-till since 1989 and is currently engaged in a multi-year, plot- and strip-based experiment that has helped Rulon Enterprises to identify specific benefits of no-till, nutrient management, cover crops, and other conservation practices. Rodney published an Op-Ed about the briefing in Agri-Pulse, Opinion: Farmers can benefit from climate legislation.

Jennifer Nelson, Executive Director for the Delaware Association of Conservation Districts and owner of a conservation consulting firm called Resource Smart, shared her experience working with Delaware farmers and conservation organizations to promote the use of cover crops. She noted that cover crop adoption is trending upward in Delaware, in part due to state- and federally-funded incentives.

Dr. Rob Myers, coordinator for the USDA-NIFA North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and adjunct faculty with the University of Missouri Plant Sciences Division discussed the science behind cover crops and how they are being used nation-wide.  He discussed data on economic impact and their role in building soil health and farm resiliency.

Our final panelist was Dr. William Salas, President of Dagan, Inc. and Applied GeoSolutions who shared his research using satellite data and soil biogeochemical modeling to build the business case for soil health. His analysis from the 2019 season shows that fields cultivated with more intensive conservation processes had a lower likelihood of prevented plant. In a year where over 19 million commodity crop acres were not planted due to excessive rain, Dr. Salas emphasized the importance of finding ways to make soils more resilient to severe weather, and how satellite data can help us get there.

The PowerPoint slide presented during the briefing can be accessed here. An additional resource is an AGree fall 2019 landscape assessment of cover crop programs and incentives in the United States.

We look forward to continued work bringing together farmers, conservation experts, and policymakers to explore how the implementation of conservation practices, such as cover cropping, can improve agricultural profitability, reduce risk, and provide environmental benefits.

Heather Lair is a member of the AGree Team and a partner at Meridian Institute.


2019 Landscape Assessment: Cover Crop Programs and Incentives

Learn about programs and policies across the United States available to assist farmers, nongovernmental organizations, schools, and soil and water conservation districts in promoting the education and adoption of cover cropping.