Under comparable management, with and without cover crops, more than 500 farmers reported a yield gain of approximately 5% in 2013 after using cover crops. And this follows an average 10% yield hike among surveyed farmers in 2012 during drought conditions.

"I think the 5% yield increase in a more typical weather year is realistic because it's similar to the yield benefit we see with adding a third crop such as wheat to the corn and soybean rotation,” says Rob Myers, North Central regional director Extension programs, USDA-SARE, University of Missouri-Columbia. “There are enough benefits with soil biology, diseases and pests, that an increase in diversity in the rotation can really pay for itself."

Yield gain was just one result from the 2013-14 National Cover Crop Survey, conducted in early 2014 by CTIC (Conservation Technology Information Center) with funding support from the USDA-SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) program. These results are not final yet, but all indications currently reinforce the meteoric rise in cover crop acres over the past five years, says Chad R. Watts, Project Director, Conservation Technology Information Center, West Lafayette, Ind.