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Conservation Choices: Cover Crops

Cover Crops

Cover CropsWhat it is

Crops such as cereal rye, oats and winter wheat are planted to temporarily protect the ground from wind and water erosion and supply living roots to the soil during times when cropland is often not adequately protected.

How it helps

  • Keeps ground covered to protect it from soil erosion.
  • Improves soil health by adding organic matter and biological activity.
  • Cover crops, such as tillage radishes, have a taproot that can help improve water infiltration.
  • Traps nutrients.
  • Can reduce weed competition.
  • Provides livestock grazing.

Planning ahead

  • What benefit would you like to get out of the cover crop?
  • What seeding method do you plan to use?
  • How will you plan to terminate a cover crop that over winters?

Tech Notes

  • Cover crops are especially beneficial when low residue producing crops, such as soybeans or corn silage, are grown on erodible land.
  • Most cover crops will need at least a month of growth before the first hard frost to allow vegetative growth large enough to survive the winter.
  • Establish cover crops according to the recommended seeding rates, dates, and methods provided.
  • If seeding the cover crop prior to harvest, use a broadcast method that allows for good coverage and prevents damaging the standing crop.
  • If seeding the cover crop after harvest, the seed may be no-tilled or broadcast seeded into existing residue cover.
  • Cover crops can be terminated by harvest, crimpers, frost, mowing, tillage and herbicides.


  • Cover crops should be terminated as late as possible to maximize plant growth and residual nutrient accumulation, while allowing sufficient time for the cover crop to decompose, release nutrients, and recharge soil moisture.
  • Do not allow livestock to graze the cover crop below two inches.

Iowa Practice Standard

Iowa Job Sheet


Additional Cover Crops Information

Soil Health Practices: Cover Crops