2022 Census of Agriculture: Cover crop use continues to be most common in eastern United States

Map of the United States showing cover crop use as a percent of total cropland by county in 2022.

U.S. cropland area planted to cover crops increased 17 percent between 2017 and 2022, from 15,390,674 acres to 17,985,831 acres, data from the recently released Census of Agriculture show. That means cover crops were planted on 4.7 percent of total cropland in 2022. Producers often use cover crops to provide living, seasonal soil cover between the planting of two cash (commodity) or forage crops. Including cover crops in a rotation can provide benefits such as improved soil health and water quality, weed suppression, and reduced soil erosion. Regional differences in the use of cover crops are related to factors such as climate, soils, cropping systems, and State incentive programs. For example, Maryland, which has the highest rate of cover crop use, has programs that encourage farmers to grow cover crops to help improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Cover cropping is more common in the southern and eastern parts of the U.S. because of soil and climate conditions, among other factors. It is more difficult to establish and grow cover crops in regions that are colder, receive less precipitation, and have a shorter growing season, so the western and northern parts of the United States have lower rates of cover crop use. One of the States with the greatest increase in cover crop acres as a proportion of total cropland from 2017 to 2022 was Texas, which also had the largest absolute increase in cover crop acreage. Cover crop acreage in Texas increased more than 50 percent (from 1,014,145 acres in 2017 to 1,550,789 acres in 2022). Cover crop use decreased in 2022 in some eastern States (Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Kentucky). For more information about factors affecting U.S. cover crop adoption, see the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) report Cover Crop Trends, Programs, and Practices in the United States, published in February 2021. See also these ERS Charts of Note: Cover crop mixes account for 18 to 25 percent of major commodity acreage with cover crops, published in December 2022, and More farmers are adding fall cover crops to their corn-for-grain, cotton, and soybean fields, published in May 2022. For more Census of Agriculture data, see the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2022 Census of Agriculture.

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