Truterra LLC, the sustainability business of Land O’Lakes, Inc., and the Soil and Water Conservation Society announced preliminary findings from the first of a three-year on-farm trial to evaluate the field-scale benefits of cover crops to build soil health, reduce erosion, sequester carbon, and improve return on investment. Initial findings across more than 2,400 acres in Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska demonstrate positive trends for the implementation of cover crops at the field scale as compared to conventional management practices.
This trial — which is part of a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant On-Farm Trials awarded in 2019 — is being conducted in partnership with Truterra-aligned retailer cooperatives Alliance Ag and Grain, Frontier Cooperative, and Heartland Cooperative.
Participating farmers and retailers use the Truterra sustainability tool to measure the performance of trial acres that implemented cover crops against the performance of a non-cover cropped control group. Participating farmers are also receiving scientific support through the Soil and Water Conservation Society to help evaluate environmental outcomes, giving them the information needed to consider adopting these regenerative practices more widely across their operations in the future.
Key findings from the first year of the trial include:
- Trial acres were net carbon negative, sequestering nearly three times as much greenhouse gas than check fields without cover crops emitted, on average;
- Sheet and rill erosion was cut in half and wind erosion was reduced by nearly three quarters (72 percent); and
- Analytics from the Truterra sustainability tool, which quantifies trial participants’ stewardship actions, found that cover-cropped fields showed an average improvement of 8 points to their sustainability score. The 0-100 scale looks at overall sustainability of the field; the higher the number the better.
“I’m really happy with the improvement in soil health I’ve seen so far while maintaining my fields’ overall profitability,” said Clint Luellen, an Iowa farmer participating in the cover crop trials. “There can be a lot of unknowns in the cover crop world, so it’s been very valuable to work closely with the conservation agronomists at my ag retailer Heartland Cooperative to evaluate all of the data from the trials to see what’s going to work for our operations and make changes to continue to improve the performance of my fields with both the environment and profitability in mind.”
Farmers are also participating in nutrient management trials over multiple growing seasons through this program. Participating farmers will continue to work with their ag retailer, using the Truterra sustainability tool, to evaluate the performance of the trials for the remaining two years of the program.
“Truterra is committed to creating opportunities for farmers to better feed a growing world through climate-smart practices. The results from this three-year trial will give farmers the resources and agronomic support to test drive cover crops and see how they can help build soil health, reduce erosion and sequester carbon,” said Tom Ryan, president of Truterra. “We’re encouraged by these preliminary results, which indicate that cover crops can provide environmental and economic benefits to a farm’s operations, the environment and the community.”
“Through this partnership, SWCS is connecting its extensive network of professionals in the public and private sector to demonstrate to farmers the environmental and economic benefits of implementing conservation on the land,” said Clare Lindahl, CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. “We look forward to continuing these conservation trials and applying learnings to provide the agriculture industry with the best tools and strategies to protect our natural resources for years to come.”