Cover Crops

Practical Farmers has led the way in encouraging more farmers to adopt cover crops in the Midwest. We provide farmers and agency personnel with information, research and farmer feedback on adding cover crops to current conventional, organic or other farming systems.

Cover crops are plants such as small grains, legumes, brassicas and others that are planted between cash crop seasons to keep a living cover on the landscape. Numerous studies have shown these plants can help protect soil and water quality, reduce chemical input costs, improve farm resiliency, boost yields, increase forage availability and improve wildlife habitat. In Iowa, the number of cover crop acres has increased dramatically over the past several years — from fewer than 10,000 acres in 2009 to about 300,000 acres in 2013. Practical Farmers of Iowa has played a central role in bringing about this transformative change to the landscape.


Working from our core area of strength – connecting farmers with each other to network, learn and inspire change – we have organized, co-hosted or sponsored more than 200 field days, workshops, farminars and other cover crop learning opportunities for farmers in Iowa and surrounding states since 2009. We also developed the fun but persuasive “Don’t Farm Naked” campaign; have written several research reports, fact sheets and other educational tools for farmers; and mobilized farmers to conduct on-farm research projects and share their farms’ cover crop stories.


With cover crops promising such tangible benefits for farmers and the environment, Practical Farmers is working to increase cover crop use in Iowa and the Midwest. Iowa Learning Farms has been a key partner in these efforts, as well as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Risk Management Agency. In addition several private companies including seedhouses, aerial applicators and cooperatives have also worked with Practical Farmers to decrease barriers for farmers wanting to add cover crops.


Prevented Planting Fact Sheet

Discover the facts and benefits about using cover crops to improve soil in prevented planting fields, including building topsoil and nitrogen.

Cover Crop Business Directory

Find contact information for pilots, seed houses or cooperatives that are helping get cover crops planted or terminated.

Cover Crop Decision and SmartMix Calculator Tools

Learn the basics of working with two online cover crop tools: the Iowa Cover Crop Decision Tool and SmartMix Calculator™.

Cover Crop Alternatives

Interested in adding cover crops to your farm? Joel Gruver’s Cover Crop Alternatives presentation shows how you can more easily add cover crops to your farming system.

Midwest Cover Crops Council

For information about cover crops throughout the Midwest, visit the Midwest Cover Crops Council Website.

Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide

This 136-page guide will help you effectively select, grow, and use cover crops in your farming systems. You can purchase a copy for just $5.

Adding a Cover Crop to a Corn-Soybean System

PFI field crop specialist Sarah Carlson explains how to add a cover crop to your corn and soybean rotation in this 25-minute video. View part one and part two.

Managing Cover Crops Profitably

For more information on how and why cover crops work, check out the book Managing Cover Crops Profitably by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, available as a free download.