EAST LANSING, Mich. — The adoption of cover crops as a sustainable practice continues to accelerate on farms in Michigan and around the U.S. according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Michigan ranks eighth in the nation with 673,205 cover crop acres in 2017, up 54 percent from 437,200 acres in 2012. Huron County led the way with 102,744 cover crop acres on 22.4 percent of county agricultural land. St. Joseph County followed with 58,319 cover crop acres on 27.5 percent of its agricultural land. Tuscola County with 47,947 acres (16.1 percent), Sanilac County with 43,186 acres (10.8 percent), Montcalm County with 29,979 (15.6 percent) and Bay County with 28,743 acres (14.6 percent) round out the top six counties by total cover crop acres. Keweenaw County leads on a percent basis with 64.3 percent, 54 acres of cover crops on 84 acres of agricultural land. The figure depicts the distribution of cover crops as a percent of agricultural land by county.
“The significant growth in cover crops acreage is contributing to rebuilding Michigan’s soil health and protecting its waters,” said Paul Gross, Michigan State University Extension educator. “Continuing and accelerating this growth will take coordinated efforts between farmers, researchers, educators, partner organizations and agencies.”
Several factors have contributed to this growth, including:
- Increasing interest in cover crops for soil health, its benefits for cropping systems, soil productivity, performance and resilience under extreme weather conditions. Some organizations that have contributed educational resources on soil health and cover crops include MSU Extension cover crops team, Midwest Cover Crops Council, USDA NRCS, Michigan Conservation Districts, Soil Health Institute, Soil Health Partnership, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and other conservation and farmer organizations.
- Growth in the awareness of how to best use and manage cover crops. Contributing to this knowledge is research at MSU, including the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, Department of Horticulture and AgBioResearch centers. Innovative Michigan farmers have been key to increasing the knowledge about and promoting the use of cover crops.
This work is supported by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program 2017-70006-27175 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
— Dean Baas, Michigan State University Extension
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