A survey of cover crop practices and perceptions of sustainable farmers in North Carolina and the surrounding region

S. O'Connell, J. M. Grossman, G. D. Hoyt, W. Shi, S. Bowen, D. C. Marticorena, K. L. Fager, N. G. Creamer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

11 Scopus citations

Abstract

The environmental benefits of cover cropping are widely recognized but there is a general consensus that adoption levels are still quite low among US farmers. A survey was developed and distributed to more than 200 farmers engaged in two sustainable farming organizations in NC and the surrounding region to determine their level of utilization, current practices and perceptions related to cover cropping. The majority of farms surveyed had diverse crop production, production areas <8 ha, and total gross farm incomes <US$50,000. Approximately one-third of the survey population had an organic production component. Eighty-nine percent of participants had a crop rotation plan and 79% of the total survey population utilized cover cropping. More than 25 different cool- and warm-season cover crops were reported. The statements that generated the strongest agreement about cover crop benefits were that cover crops: increase soil organic matter, decrease soil erosion, increase soil moisture, contribute nitrogen to subsequent cash crops, suppress weeds, provide beneficial insect habitat and break hard pans with their roots. Economic costs associated with cover cropping were not viewed as an obstacle to implementation. A factor analysis was conducted to identify underlying themes from a series of positive and negative statements about cover crops. Pre- and post-management challenges were able to explain the most variability (30%) among participant responses. Overall, participants indicated that the incorporation of residues was their greatest challenge and that a lack of equipment, especially for no-till systems, influenced their decisions about cover cropping. Farmers did not always appear to implement practices that would maximize potential benefits from cover crops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)550-562
Number of pages13
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Volume30
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

Keywords

  • cover crop
  • green manure
  • no-till
  • organic
  • residue management
  • survey
  • sustainable

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