Washington, DC (May 1, 2024) - While cover crops can provide multiple environmental and economic benefits both on and off the farm, the net benefits of cover crops vary by region, crop/livestock system, and operation.

A report issued today by USDA’s Economic Research Service, Cover Crops on Livestock Operations: Potential for Expansion in the United States, looks at how incorporating cover crops into an integrated crop-livestock system with cattle, such as by grazing or harvesting the cover crops for forage, might improve the profitability of cover cropping and livestock production.

Here are a few findings from the report:

  • The profitability of cover crops in an integrated livestock system primarily varies with the choice of cover crop species and management practices, the amount of cover crop forage being consumed by livestock, and the agronomic effect of the cover crop on the cash crop.
  • The share of feedlot operations reporting cover cropping grew from 21% to 27% between 2012 and 2017.
  • Grazing and harvesting cover crops for forage is common in cattle operations with cover crops. In 2021, 72% of dairy operations and 89% of cow-calf operations with cover crops reported harvesting or grazing at least some of their cover crop acreage.
  • Regions such as the Eastern Uplands (which is characterized by small farms that are mostly part-time cattle, tobacco, and poultry farms and includes all of WV and parts of KY, TN, VA, NC, GA, AL, OK, MO, and AK) and central/eastern Texas and Louisiana have potential to expand cover cropping in livestock systems.

For more information, please refer to the full report.