Cover Crops to Improve Soil in “Prevented Planting” Fields

Indianapolis, IN – June 4, 2013—Prolonged rain and flooding has once again resulted in many fields that will go unplanted this year. Indiana farmers in this situation need to weigh not only their program and insurance options (prevented planting), but should also consider the opportunities to promote long-term productivity from this difficult situation.

According to Barry Fisher, State Soil Health Specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Indiana, producers should explore the benefits of planting a cover crop.

Fisher said, “The benefits of cover crops are vast and will lead to improved soil health. An important soil health concept is to ensure there is green vegetation and growing roots at all times of the year. Cover crops fix and/or hold onto unused nitrogen and other nutrients; build organic matter; control weeds; control erosion and/or improve soil health during the remainder of the season.”

The potential “prevented planting” payment, along with the improved yield potential following a full season "green manure" crop may provide some economic rebound. Farmers are encouraged to first check with Farm Service Agency (FSA) and their crop insurance agent on planting and harvest restrictions for cover crops before making a decision.

As excessive rainfall runoff or flood waters cut across unprotected fields it carries away the top soil, leaving erosion and scouring. On the other hand, when fields are saturated for long periods the soil will lose important soil organisms. With either of these situations, soil health is lost or severely impacted. A tilled, bare fallow field will lose even more carbon, nitrogen and organic matter. Tilled fields will be subject to erosion, compaction and crusting. Seeding a cover crop instead of tilling the soil will help protect the soil from further sun, wind and water damage and help to rebuild topsoil.

“Once a cover crop is established, you will want to avoid removing or burying the top growth,” said Fisher, “because this will reduce the organic matter benefits. If reseeding could be incompatible with subsequent crops, consider killing, grazing, or mowing the cover crop before seed heads form. This will also ensure rapid decomposition and leave more nutrients in the plant material that are available to soil organisms and later crops.”

At this point, some fields may be so compacted or eroded that deep tillage or other remediation activities are planned. Fisher encourages farmers to contact their NRCS District Conservationist to explore options before making a decision that requires tillage.

Keeping your soil healthy under these wet conditions is challenging, but NRCS can help farmers with recommendations when planting a crop is not possible. Contact your local USDA NRCS office today



Barry Fisher, Indiana Soil Health Specialist, 317.295.5850 (

Rebecca Fletcher, State Public Affairs Specialist, 317.295.5825 (