The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that is not always friendly to agriculture, has released a report advocating for the use of cover crops. The report, released in Washington on Thursday, focused on how farmers can better deal with climate change. Report co-author Lara Bryant told HAT their focus was on what they call climate ready soil, “A lot of people outside of agriculture do not understand how cover crops can improve the health of soil and benefit the environment. We wanted to show how the use of cover crops can help with climate change.”
The study created a what if scenario. “What if the top 10 agricultural states in the US planted 50% of their corn and soybean acres to cover crops,” Bryant said. “Our analysis finds cover crops can suck tons of carbon pollution from the air, significantly cut crop losses, and prevent the loss of a trillion gallons of water. In fact, planting cover crops on half the corn and soybean acres in the top 10 agricultural states (California, Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Indiana) could sequester more than 19 million metric tons of carbon annually – the equivalent of taking more than 4 million cars off the road.” NRDC’s report, Climate-Ready Soil: How Cover Crops Can Make Farms More Resilient to Extreme Weather Risks, examines the carbon capture and water-holding benefits of soil stewardship methods to improve soil health in the 10 highest-value-producing agricultural states in the United States and includes data on annual average crop losses, as well as projected climate change impacts across the country, the effects on crops, and the benefits of cover crops.
Indiana is well on its way toward the goal of having cover crops on half of our corn and soybean land. According to the NRDS report, Indiana farmers have captured 2.1 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually; and 113 billion gallons of water stored. Indiana is No. 2 nationally in the planting of cover crops. Bryant said, if other states would follow the Indiana lead, a major reduction in carbon could be achieved, “Increasing the organic matter in soil by 1 percent on half of the corn and soybean acres in the top 10 agriculture states could help the soil hold an additional trillion gallons of water, which is enough water to meet the annual needs of nearly 33 million people.”
NRDC also praised Indiana’s conservation partnership and conservation cropping systems program. Bryant said NRDC hopes the report will generate more support for cover crops by policy makers and make more resources available to growers. She added some of the best education can come from one farmer talking to another, much like the program in Indiana.
A link to the full report can be found here.