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Cover cropping uptake increasing on the Prairies, survey finds


December 22, 2021
By University of Manitoba

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Researchers at the University of Manitoba have shared the results from the 2020 Prairie Cover Crop Survey, which capture a snapshot of the use and grower observations of this new practice. The report suggests that cover crops are becoming established in the Prairies and can be grown in a wide range of locations and environments across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Accessing local information about cover crops has been a hurdle for Prairie farmers interested in adopting this production method, which holds the potential to build soil health and store carbon in soils.

To help fill these knowledge gaps, the 2020 Prairie Cover Crop Survey was developed to provide information to farmers, agronomists, researchers, policy makers and government organizations that will play an important role in the future of cover crops in the region.

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Between October 2020 and April 2021, Dr. Yvonne Lawley and graduate student Callum Morrison from the university’s department of plant science asked farmers questions about how their farm utilized cover crops in 2020, such as how cover crops were grown, their agronomy, the benefits and the problems farmers have experienced. Respondents were also asked about what could be done to support those using cover crops, as well as questions to characterize farm types and size.

“It is an important time to hear from farmers about their needs for research and knowledge transfer,” Morrison said. “Farmers want to know how to use cover crops to meet their goals. Policy makers and extension providers want information to best assist farmers and design policy to reach environmental targets.”

In total, the survey collected responses from 281 early adopters who grew a cover crop in 2020. These farms, which were from every major agricultural region of the Prairies, grew 102,539 acres of cover crops. Of the respondents, 31 per cent were from Alberta, 32 per cent from Saskatchewan and 37 per cent from Manitoba.

“As early adopters of cover cropping on the Prairies, we’ve found it to be a bit of a lonely pursuit,” said Kevin Nickle, survey respondent and grain farmer in Manitoba’s Red River Valley. “This survey demonstrates that there is widespread participation and a general desire to continue. There is so much to learn in this realm and this survey may help inform researchers and practitioners on the specific questions to ask.”

“Although I had not yet used cover crops at the time of this study, I am encouraged by the uptake of the practice, and have now planted fall rye as a trial on some of our acres that may be used for spring grazing. We are also able to purchase a no-till drill this fall and look forward to the possibilities,” said a survey respondent.

The research team partnered with a number of farm organizations and individuals in sharing the survey widely.

“We must thank all those who took the time to call their neighbour, send an email, add the survey notice to a newsletter, published a story, or retweeted a post,” Lawley said. “It was exciting to experience the strength of networks in the agricultural community throughout this project.”

Funding for this project was provided by General Mills and Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development through the Manitoba Ag Action Program.

The report can be accessed at the University of Manitoba Agriculture & Food Knowledge Exchange website.

Listen to Lawley and Morrison discuss the survey and their take-aways in this episode of Inputs, the podcast by Top Crop Manager, from earlier this fall.


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