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The Hidden Land Use Cost of Upscaling Cover Crops

Cover cropping is considered a cornerstone practice in sustainable agriculture; however, little attention has been paid to the cover crop production supply chain. In this Perspective, we estimate land use requirements to supply the United States maize production area with cover crop seed, finding that across 18 cover crops, on average 3.8% (median 2.0%) of current production area would be required, with the popular cover crops rye and hairy vetch requiring as much as 4.5% and 11.9%, respectively. The latter land requirement is comparable to the annual amount of maize grain lost to disease in the U.S. We highlight avenues for reducing these high land use costs.

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