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Cover Crops and Soil Health

‚ÄčWinter pea, crimson clover, and cereal rye cover crop mix

Winter pea, crimson clover, and cereal rye
cover crop mix

The NRCS Plant Materials Program is evaluating cover crops used in conservation practices to support healthy soils and cropland sustainability efforts.  The species of cover crop selected, along with its management, determine the benefits and returns in cropping systems.

Cover crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system. They can prevent soil and wind erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles along with various other benefits. The species of cover crop selected along with its management determine the benefits and returns.


Cover Crop Plant Guides

The following plant guides describe the characteristics of some species commonly used as cover crops. They provide assistance in selecting appropriate cover crops, when and how to plant them and when to terminate or incorporate the plant into the soil.

These documents require Acrobat Reader.

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Cover Crop Selection and Decision Support Tools

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National Study on the effects of cover crop seeding raters and diversity on soil health

Plant Materials Centers in California, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington conducted coordinated studies to evaluate the influence of cover crop seeding rates and plant diversity on soil health. The annual reports from this study allow us to follow what happens when equal treatments are planted at varied locations across the U.S.  Final data analysis for this study is currently underway.

Study Results - Year 1

Study Results - Year 2

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Cover Crops: Current and Future Directions - In this plenary discussion, Ramona Garner (USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Program) describes the efforts of the Plant Materials Center to identify and develop new and improved cover crops; germplasm identification and screening, and the role of the center in national cover crops and soil health projects. This session was part of Cover Crops for Soil Health, a three-day professional development workshop hosted by Northeast SARE and Delaware State University in March 2016.  View on YouTube

Maximizing Cover Crop Benefits for Growers     

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Lockeford Plant Materials Center conducts trials year-round to find plants and mixes that producers can successfully use to improve their soils. Lockeford PMC Manager Margaret Smither-Kopperl talked about the multiple benefits cover crops can have and how they are developing budget-friendly mixes for different producers. Agronomist Valerie Bullard showed results from a nationwide-wide trial that is looking at what varieties grow the best in specific regions and how some plants can source nitrogen for your soil.   

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Additional Resources

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