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Crimped cereal rye cover crop on a southeast Iowa crop field.

Iowa Cover Crop Fact Sheets

The Iowa cover crop fact sheets are a quick reference to aid in selection and identification of cover crop species. The fact sheets provide information on cultural traits, planting, and performance ratings. 


Annual Ryegrass

Annual ryegrass is a deep-rooted winter annual grass that grows quickly and is excellent as a cover crop for fighting soil compaction.

Annual ryegrass grows in a cornfield following harvest. Ryegrass grows quickly and fights soil compaction.


Barley is a cool-season annual grass that is very good as an Iowa cover crop for reducing soil erosion and fighting compaction.

Barley cover crop heading out.


Buckwheat is a summer annual broadleaf cover crop that establishes and matures quickly, helping to suppress weeds and fight soil compaction. 

Buckwheat leaves

Cereal Rye

Cereal rye is a cool-season annual grass that is a popular cover crop for its ability to establish in the fall, suppress weeds, reduce erosion and soil compaction.

Cereal rye cover crop in the spring.


Cowpea is quick growing warm-season annual legume that provides a good grazing
source and nitrogen fixation.

Cowpeas growing as a cover crop in an Iowa crop field.

Crimson Clover

Crimson Clover is a quick growing cool-season, winter annual legume cover crop. It is a strong nitrogen fixer and scavenger. Crimson clover has a strong root system that helps reduce compaction and build soil.

Crimson Clover Field


Flax is cool-season annual broadleaf best used in cover crop mixes. Flax is an excellent soil compaction fighter and performs very well in drought conditions.

Flax plant flowering

Hairy Vetch

Hairy Vetch is a cool-season annual legume cover crop that can provide an excellent nitrogen
source. It grows slowly in the fall, but root development continues over winter, providing energy for quicker growth in the spring.

Hairy vetch blooms can be seen in a cover crop mix.


Kale is cool-season annual broadleaf best used in cover crop mixes. Kale is an excellent source for livestock grazing and very good for weed suppression.

Kale plant growing in a garden.


Mustard is a deep-rooted, quick growing cool-season annual broadleaf best used in cover crop mixes for fighting soil compaction and scavenging nitrogen from the soil.

Mustard plant featured in a yellow blooming mustard field.


Oats are a cool-season annual grass and popular Iowa cover crop because they grow quickly, help reduce soil erosion, and provide quality livestock grazing in the fall.

Oats grow as a cover crop with clover in a Delaware County, Iowa, field.


Radishes are a cool-season annual brassica cover crop. They have a long taproot that helps with water infiltration and soil compaction. Radishes are also very good at scavenging excess nitrogen from the soil.

Radish cover crop in an Iowa crop field


Rapeseed is a fast-growing cool-season brassica often used in cover crop mixes to help fight soil compaction, capture residual nitrogen, and help with water infiltration.

Rapeseed blooming in a crop field

Red Clover

Red Clover is an easy to establish cool-season, winter annual legume that provides an excellent nitrogen source to the soil. Many Iowa farmers use red clover in a mix for livestock grazing.

Red Clover in a cover crop mix.


Sorghum-Sudangrass is a quick growing summer annual grass used as a cover crop to scavenge excess nutrients in the soil, suppress weeds, and fight compaction.

Sorghum-sudangrass grows in an Ohio field.


Sunflower is a quick growing summer annual broadleaf cover crop often used in multi-species mixes to help fight soil compaction and scavenge excess nutrients in the soil.

Sunflowers grow in a Madison County, Iowa, field.


Triticale is a deep-rooted cool-season annual grass that resembles wheat and cereal rye. It provides excellent cover, lasting residue, and scavenges nitrogen.

Triticale seedlings


Turnips are cool-season biennial brassicas that offer diversity in a cover crop mix. Turnips can help capture nitrogen in the field, reduce soil compaction, and provide quality grazing.

Turnip grows in a southern Iowa field.


Wheat is a cool-season annual grass that is an effective cover crop for weed suppression, erosion control, and as a livestock grazing supplement.

Wheat grows in a southeast Iowa organic crop field.

Winter Camelina

Winter camelina is a winter hardy brassica used as a cover crop to fight soil compaction and scavenge excess nitrogen and phosphorus.

Winter camelina plant blooms yellow in an Iowa field.
Winter Camelina (6.04 MB)

Factsheets were created in a collaboration between USDA-NRCS and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (Mark Licht, Hillary Olson, Mila Pessotto, J.D. Hollingsworth). Jason Johnson with USDA-NRCS designed the factsheets.