By Kitty Gifford

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, spanning some 6.4 million new points of information about America’s farms and ranches and those who operate them, including new data about on-farm decision making, down to the county level.

The 2012 Census was the first one to gather data about cover crop use, so the 2017 Census reveals some positive trends in land use practices reflective of increased adoption of soil health management practices.  Nationally farmers are planting 5 million more acres in cover crops, for a total of 15 million, since 2012.

Some key highlights relevant to soil health practices in New York:

  • There are 295,433 acres planted in cover crops (up 37% from 2012).
  • There are 337,968 acres of land using no-till practices (up 21% from 2012).

While these numbers are encouraging and speak to the soil health revolution of sorts going on in farming today, they are a fraction of the over 4 million acres of cropland in New York.

The benefits of planting cover crops include holding the soil in place, which provides resilience to soil erosion. No-till practices are a way of growing crops without disturbing the soil. The benefits include slowing the pace of organic matter decomposition so that nutrient release happens gradually.

There is still much work ahead to overcome barriers to adoption of soil health practices by farmers in New York and nationally. As the New York Soil Health initiative heads into year three, we will continue to support the ongoing efforts to advance soil health as detailed in our 2019 New York Soil Health Roadmap.

Census results are available in many online formats including video presentations, a new data query interface, maps, and traditional data tables. All information is available at



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