From Fields to Data: Wisconsin’s Cover Crop Survey

Wisconsin farmers are sharing how they use cover crops through the Wisconsin Cover Crop Survey. Dan Smith, Southwest Regional Agronomist for UW-Madison, says this survey has helped them to fill critical knowledge gaps concerning the performance of cover crops after different harvest cycles.

“The primary goal of the survey was to assess the biomass produced by cover crops after fall or summer-harvested crops. It helps us to understand the efficacy of various cover crop species in Wisconsin’s agricultural ecosystems,” explains Smith.

Of the data collected, Smith says winter rye emerged as the most popular cover crop post-harvest. It exhibited great biomass yields, particularly after summer-harvested crops.

The survey also unveiled key trends indicating the predominance of no-till drilling as the primary method for cover crop establishment on most farms. Alternative methods such as drone seeding, aerial seeding, and broadcast seeding were also used.

However, despite the benefits, farmers identified time as the primary barrier to adopting cover crops. Cost was a significant factor as well.

Smith adds, “The survey also highlighted regional trends, with substantial biomass production observed in southern Wisconsin and extending to north-central regions after winter wheat harvests. However, a tapering off of biomass was noted farther north.”

Moving forward, Smith says their focus will be on obtaining spring biomass data.

The survey data will be available in the next few months through their online tool. This tool will enable users to see cover crop planting dates, previous cash crop information, cover crop species, and seeding rates.