Survey looks for those who’ve grown cover crops – or haven’t

The University of Manitoba study looks to quantify cover crop production across the Prairies

University of Manitoba researchers want to hear from producers growing cover crops – and those who’ve yet to grow them.

The survey of cover crops on the Prairies is in its second year, and is calling on all farmers to tell them if they grew a cover crop in 2020 — and if they didn’t, what they know about or think of cover cropping.

In 2019 the survey, led by Yvonne Lawley, a professor of agronomy and farming systems and PhD student Callum Morrison, had 111 respondents across the Prairies. It counted 83,500 acres of cover crops.

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“There’s definitely more, but it’s good to have that minimum benchmark,” Morrison said.

Fifty-four per cent of those acres were grown in Manitoba, which Morrison said likely indicates two things. That is where the researchers’ network is strongest, but also that the Red River Valley has one of the longest growing seasons on the Prairies, which might make it more conducive to cover cropping.

This year, Morrison and Lawley hope to extend the survey’s reach which will lead to more accurate results.

They’ve also added more options, including asking farmers to respond if they didn’t grow a cover crop in 2020. If they didn’t grow them in 2020, producers are asked what concerns they have about growing cover crops or what barriers they face.

Producers who’ve grown cover crops will be asked if they ran into difficulties.

They aim to gauge if “the fears match up with the reality of growing cover crops,” Morrison said.

Preliminary results show that Manitobans grew about 45,000 acres of cover crops, of which 33,500 were grown in the “shoulder season,” not the main growing season.

Of all shoulder-season cover crops grown on the Prairies, 71 per cent were grown in Manitoba.

Across the Prairies, 76 per cent of cover crops were a mixture of species, and 44 per cent were a mix of two to five species.

In Manitoba, 65 per cent of cover crops contained oats. Just over half contained fall rye. Peas came next, followed by radish and clover.

By contrast, clover was the most common cover crop in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Ninety per cent of farmers said they grew cover crops to build soil health and 80 per cent said they grew them to keep roots in the soil (farmers could check multiple reasons). Other reasons included to feed soil biology, add nitrogen, and to manage problem soils. Sixty per cent said they planted them for grazing.

“Farmers are growing cover crops for many, many, many different reasons and it’s very personal to that farmer,” said Morrison.

Find the survey and more information at https://sites.google.com/view/prairiecovercropsurvey/.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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