Cover Crop

A close-growing crop that temporarily protects the soil when crop residues are not adequate.

How it works

Crops including cereal rye, oats, clover, hairy vetch, and winter wheat are planted to temporarily protect the ground from wind and water erosion during times when cropland isn't adequately protected against soil erosion.

How it helps

Cover crops keep ground covered, add organic matter to the soil, trap nutrients, improve soil tilth and reduce weed competition.

Planning ahead

Do you have a seeding method that won't harm standing crops?
Are adequate soil conservation measures installed?

Tech notes

Cover crops are most often recommended when low residue producing crops such as soybeans or corn silage are grown on erodible land.
Cover crops need 30-40 days of good growth before the first hard frost.
Seeding after harvest will normally not allow cover crops to grow large enough to survive the winter. *
Seed from the end of August until mid-September. *
Cover crops may be air seeded prior to harvesting soybeans and other crops, or seeded conventionally after silage harvest.
Many crops can be used for cover crops. Cereal rye is common.
Kill cover crops in the spring. Mowing or herbicide application is acceptable. Tillage is not recommended because it will bury residue.
Early kill is important to reduce the risk of depleting moisture needed for the grain crop.
Legume cover crops add nitrogen to the soil, providing a low-cost fertilizer for grain crops.
Follow the NRCS recommended seeding rates for the cover crop you select: *
Crop lb./ac.
Oats 70
Cereal rye 90
Winter wheat 90
Alfalfa 12
Sweet clover 12
Red clover 10
Crownvetch 5
Sudan grass 25
Hairy vetch 30

Maintenance

Cover crops are a short term practice and are not expected to last after initial establishment.
Restrict grazing if necessary.

* Check local recommendations.