Cover Crops

Practical Farmers provides farmers and agency personnel with information, anecdotes and research about adding cover crop 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 600,000 acres in 2016.  Practical Farmers of Iowa has played a central role in bringing about this transformative change to the landscape.

Learn More About Cover Crop Cost Share Opportunities


On this page:


Cover Crop Resources

Cover Crop Directory

Cover Crop Recommendations

Cover Crop Decision Tree

Cover Crop Decision Tools

Developing a Winning Cover Crop Plan

Cover Crops and Livestock

Grazing Cover Crops Fact Sheet

Contract Grazing Cover Crops Fact Sheet

Spring Grazing Cover Crops

Herbicide Use and Cover Crops

Corn Herbicides and Grazing Restrictions

Soybean Herbicides and Grazing Restrictions

Corn Following a Cereal Rye Cover Crop

More COver Crop Resources


Annual Conference sessions

2017

Topic Speaker Presentation PDF
Cover Crops 201 Chris Teachout & Loran Steinlage PDF
Grazing Cover Crops Mark Schleisman PDF
Cover Crops and Conservation on Rented Ground Chris Teachout & Chris Henning PDF
A Decade of Cover Crop Research Joel Gruver PDF
Intro to Cover Crops for Vegetables Mark Quee PDF
Growing Your Own Cover Crop Seed Chris Gaesser & Dick Sloan PDF
Reducing Herbicide with Cover Crops Doug Adams & Wade Dooley PDF
Roller-Crimping Cover Crops Levi Lyle and Billy Sammons PDF

2016

Topic Speaker Presentation PDF
Inter-Seeding Cover Crops to Corn  Bryce Irlbeck PDF
Rolling Cover Crops with Modified Equipment  Dave Schmidt PDF
Rolling Cover Crops with Modified Equipment  Francis Thicke PDF
Rolling Cover Crops with Modified Equipment  Doug Alert PDF

2015

Topic Speaker Presentation PDF
Healthy Plants Grow in Healthy Soils  Jill Clapperton
Healthy Plants Grow in Healthy Soils Q & A  Jill Clapperton
Fear of Change in Cover Crop Adoption  Blake Vince
Global Overview of Farmland Conservation Blake Vince
Cover Crops or Forage Crops? Joe Sellers  PDF
Cover Crops, Weeds and Herbicides Bob Hartzler

2014

Topic Speaker Presentation PDF
Nutrient Reduction Strategies  Tim Smith

2013

Topic Speaker Presentation PDF
Cover Crops 101 Rob Stout  PDF
Cover Crops 101 Tom Kaspar PDF

2012

Topic Speaker Presentation PDF
Cover Crops:  101 and Advanced Paul Ackley PDF
Cover Crops:  101 and Advanced Dave Robison PDF
Benefits of Cover Crops Tom Kaspar PDF
Benefits of Cover Crops Dave Robison PDF

Other Resources

Economic Value of Cover Crops (ILF)
A recent study, conducted by Iowa Learning Farms (ILF), Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and Practical Farmers of Iowa, was to find the economic value of reduced soil erosion and reduced nutrient loss from cover crop use.

Infographic

Cover Crop Termination Guidelines (NRCS)
To ensure that USDA policies are coordinated and up to date with evolving cover crop practices, the administrators of the Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS), Risk Management Agency (RMA) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) organized an interagency workgroup to develop consistent, simple and
flexible policy across the three agencies.

Prevented Planting Fact Sheet (NRCS)
Discover the facts and benefits about using cover crops to improve soil in prevented planting fields, including building topsoil and nitrogen.

Managing Cover Crops Profitably (SARE)
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.

Midwest Cover Crops Council (WIU)
For information about cover crops throughout the Midwest, visit the Midwest Cover Crops Council Website. Their 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.

Cover Crop Alternatives (WIU)
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.

Ohio State University Sustainable Crop Rotations with Cover Crops (OSU)

Estimating Plant-Available Nitrogen Release from Cover Crops, Oregon State

Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects (SARE)
This 16-page bulletin will help you use cover crops to encourage populations of pollinators and beneficial insects on your farm while you address your other resource concerns.


Tools

Iowa Learning Farms Calculators

Cover Crop Economics (NRCS)

Midwest Cover Crops Council- Cover Crop Decision Tool

Green Cover Seeds Smartmix Calculator


Partners

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 Conversation ServiceUSDA Agricultural Research ServiceLeopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Risk Management Agency. In addition several private companies including seed-houses, aerial applicators and cooperatives have also worked with Practical Farmers to decrease barriers for farmers wanting to add cover crops.

American Society of Agronomy Cover Crops Webinar Series


Contact Information

For more information about on-farm research or cover crops programming: contact Stefan Gailans at stefan@practicalfarmers.org or Sarah Carlson at sarah@practicalfarmers.org.